Today's been a bad day for China's leading Internet stocks. Shares of Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU), E-Commerce China Dangdang (NYSE:DANG), Youku Tudou (UNKNOWN:YOKU.DL), and SINA (NASDAQ:SINA) opened between 3% and 6% lower this morning after an SEC decision that may make it harder for them to square away a reputable auditor down the line.
Fed up with accounting shenanigans at small Chinese ADRs, a judge is suspending the Chinese units of the Big Four accounting firms from auditing U.S.-listed companies for six months. If it sticks, this will naturally make it harder for ADRs to publish audited financials.
The SEC administrative law judge made the extreme ruling after the firms refused to provide audit papers to stateside regulators investigating potential fraud in Chinese companies. The firms argue that doing so would violate Chinese law, and, naturally, they will be appealing the unappealing decision.
However, the market hates uncertainty, sending shares of many of the leading U.S.-listed Chinese speedsters lower.
The rub here is that these aren't fly-by-night companies. Baidu is the company behind China's leading search engine, commanding a nearly $60 billion market cap. Dangdang is China's leading online seller of books. It's the smallest of the four companies, and that may explain why it also took the hardest hit by trading as much as 13% lower early in the day. Youku completed its merger with Tudou a couple of years ago, combining two of the country's leading streaming video companies to create the undisputed top dog in the niche. SINA is one of the market's longest-trading Chinese Internet stocks, but the parent company of the Twitter-esque Sina Weibo couldn't escape the wrath of concerned investors.
Perfect! This is a good buying opportunity for those that have been looking to get into some of China's leading Internet companies. Whether the Chinese firms cave in to the documentation requests or are successful in their appeals, does anyone really think that Baidu and its smaller peers will go dark on stateside exchanges? The situation isn't trivial, but it's far more likely that some form of resolution will save the day than not.
Investors buying into China's growth stocks know that there are inherent political and regulatory risks. This is just another reminder. However, since these four companies aren't being accused of accounting shenanigans themselves, it seems as if today's sell-off is more than a bit overblown. Quality growth stocks bounce back, and these stocks will likely do exactly that.