(Bloomberg) — Shares of China’s once high-flying private education companies are the world’s worst performers this year amid a government crackdown aimed at easing student workloads and costs.
American depository receipts of Gaotu Techedu Inc. have plunged 73% so far in 2021, making them the biggest loser on the Bloomberg World Large & Mid Cap Price Return Index. Not far behind at No. 4 with a loss of 67% is TAL Education Group, which has been seen as a bellwether for the $100 billion industry, while New Oriental Education & Technology Group Inc. is down 56% at No. 10.
Those three moves alone total a market value loss of over $50 billion, demonstrating how quickly fortunes can reverse when a sector comes into the crosshairs of Chinese regulators. Tutoring firms have been grappling with greater oversight, fines and limits on time and fees since President Xi Jinping lashed out at the industry’s “disorderly development” in May.
The regulatory effort mirrors a similar government pushback against Chinese technology companies, another group that has suffered recent stock declines after soaring to lofty valuations. A quick end to the pain seems unlikely, given reports that China is preparing to unveil even tougher rules on the private tutoring sector.
“The worst-case scenario that regulators will ban K-12 tutoring during the weekends and the winter and summer holidays seems to be more likely,” said Jessica Tea, an investment specialist for greater China equities at BNP Paribas Asset Management Asia Ltd. Such a move could dent the industry’s growth and profitability over the next two years, she added.
The sweeping regulations have impacted the primary market as well, with Tencent Holdings Ltd.-backed VIPKid and Huohua Siwei putting off plans for U.S. initial public offerings. Meanwhile analyst downgrades of listed stocks have gathered pace, with Credit Suisse Group AG and Morgan Stanley cutting their views on TAL Education and New Oriental Education this month.
The losses have been felt by some investors more than others. Zhang Kun, a stock fund manager who rode to stardom on big gains last year, has turned into one of this year’s worst performers, in part due to soured bets on education stocks.
Still, some tutoring firms may be in a better position to survive than others. Larger players like TAL and New Oriental Education have the financial strength to weather the storm, UOB Kay Hian analyst Julia Pan wrote in a note on Wednesday, even as she downgraded her view on the sector to underweight, citing the muted growth outlook.
JPMorgan Chase & Co. analysts led by DS Kim recommend avoiding the after-school education stocks until officials provide clearer direction. The wait might be over soon, the analysts wrote in a report last week, noting the growing possibility of a policy release within the month.
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