Tencent trims stake in Koolearn, New Oriental’s live-streaming unit, as new venture fuels a six-fold jump in stock

  • Tencent collected US$92 million by selling down its stake in Koolearn Technology to 1.6 per cent from 9 per cent in two transactions this month
  • Koolearn switched to live-streaming shopping after China last year slammed for-profit private education business in part of tech sector crackdown

Chinese tech giant Tencent Holdings has trimmed its stake in Hong Kong-listed Koolearn Technology, taking advantage of a six-fold surge in shares of the private education group following its recent pivot to live-streaming shopping business.

The WeChat operator sold 35.6 million shares on June 15 and 38.9 million shares on June 16 at an average price of HK$9.62 to HK$9.68 each, according to stock exchange filings. The sales, amounting to HK$719.7 million (US$92 million), reduced its stake in Koolearn to 1.6 per cent from 9 per cent.

Koolearn Technology, which is 55.7 per cent owned by China’s biggest private tutoring group New Oriental Education & Technology, switched its business focus to live-streaming shopping after China last year slammed the for-profit online education platforms, part of a crackdown that wiped out more than US$1 trillion of market capitalisation from Chinese tech companies.

The new venture took off with fanfare after bilingual live shopping sessions on its Douyin account known as Dongfang Zhenxuan went viral earlier this month. Koolearn stock jumped more than sixfold from June 10 to 16, only to plunge by more than 40 per cent after the Tencent divestment. The stock fell 0.5 per cent to HK$16.90 as of noon local time on Tuesday.

China’s State Council last July issued a regulation banning for-profit off-campus tutoring for primary and middle school students, killing the core business of companies. The crackdown came amid antitrust and cybersecurity actions that precipitated a rout in Chinese tech stocks listed in Hong Kong and New York.

Revenue at New Oriental slumped 48 per cent to US$614.1 million in its fiscal third quarter ended February 28 from a year earlier, according to its report card in April. It incurred a net loss of US$122.4 million, versus a US$151.3 million income in the same period last year.

Koolearn benefited from the sudden rise to popularity of Dong Yuhui, a former English teacher who now sells books and agricultural products on Dongfang Zhenxuan. His fame helped pull in followers and sales.

Its June 16 live session generated 63 million yuan (US$9.4 million) in gross merchandise volume, according to data compiled by Citic Securities. The Dongfang Zhenxuan account on Douyin has since garnered 17 million followers by this week. The early numbers are fanning hopes that live-streaming will help Koolearn and New Oriental recover from last year’s crash.

New Oriental’s founder and chairman Michael Yu Minhong. Photo: Weibo

Michael Yu Minhong, chairman of New Oriental, said on his personal WeChat account earlier this month that the live-streaming economy is the “third revolution of business” after hypermarkets and e-commerce.

Inspired by the success of Dong on Dongfang Zhenxuan, Yu said he planned to put more resources into selling educational products such as books, software, hardware, and other cultural and educational supplies. A team has been assembled for that purpose, he added.

Shenzhen-based Tencent has been cutting its equity stakes in several other investments. It sold a 2.6 per cent stake in US-listed Singapore-based technology group Sea Limited in January, and offered part of its stake in JD.com worth US$16.4 billion to shareholders as special dividend in December.

Author: Iris Deng, SCMP

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