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HONG KONG: China's Tencent Holdings plans to sell all or a bulk of its $24 billion stake in food delivery firm Meituan to placate domestic regulators and monetise an eight-year-old investment, four sources with knowledge of the matter said.

Tencent, which owns 17% of Meituan, has been engaging with financial advisers in recent months to work out how to execute a potentially large sale of its Meituan stake, said three of the sources.

Technology giant Tencent, the owner of China's No. 1 messaging app WeChat, first invested in Meituan's rival Dianping in 2014, which then merged with Meituan a year later to form the current company.

Based on Meituan's market capitalisation as of Monday, Tencent's 17% stake is worth $24.3 billion.

Tencent is seeking to kick off the sale within this year if market conditions are favourable, said two of the sources.

The planned sale comes against the backdrop of a sweeping regulatory crackdown in China since late 2020 on technology heavyweights that took aim at their empire building via stake acquisitions and domestic concentration of market power.

The regulatory crackdown came after years of a laissez-faire approach that drove growth and dealmaking at breakneck speed.

Tencent has been reducing holdings partly to appease the Chinese regulators and partly to book hefty profits on those bets, said three of the sources. The value of its shareholdings in listed companies excluding its subsidiaries dropped to just $89 billion as of end-March from $201 billion in the same period last year, according to its quarterly reports.

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"The regulators are apparently not happy that tech giants like Tencent have invested in and even become a big backer of various tech firms that run businesses closely related to people's livelihoods in the country," said one of the sources.

Shares of Hong Kong-listed Meituan fell more than 10% following the Reuters report while Tencent dropped more than 2% in Tuesday afternoon trade.

Tencent declined to comment. Meituan did not respond to a request for comment.

All the sources declined to be named due to confidentiality constraints.

Tencent announced in December the divestment of around 86% of its stake in JD.com Inc, worth $16.4 billion, weakening its ties to China's second-biggest e-commerce firm.

One month later, it raised $3 billion by selling a 2.6% stake in Singapore-based gaming and e-commerce company SEA Ltd , which was seen as a move to monetise its investment while adjusting business strategy.

Tencent has not pinned the sale of JD.com and SEA stakes on the regulatory crackdown.

The potential sale of the Meituan holding will likely be executed via a block trade in the public market which typically takes a day or two from marketing to completion, according to two of the sources.

It would be a fast and smooth way for Tencent to offload the shares, they added, compared to negotiating with a private buyer. - Reuters

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