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UPDATE 1-Chinese gaming and 'metaverse' shares battered by regulatory squeeze

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SHANGHAI, Sept 9 (Reuters) - Chinese gaming and "metaverse"-related shares skidded on Thursday, dragged down by an ongoing regulatory squeeze that has engulfed industries ranging from online platforms and entertainment to for-profit tutoring and real estate.

In the latest blow to China's online gaming sector, the South China Morning Post reported on Thursday afternoon that Beijing had temporarily suspended approvals of new games, further hitting shares in the likes of Tencent Holdings and NetEase.

Shares in the two companies fell more than 8% and 13% respectively.

The decision to freeze new video game approvals was revealed at a Wednesday meeting between Chinese authorities and gaming firms including Tencent Holdings and NetEase, the report citing unnamed sources said, adding that it was not clear how long the suspension would last.

Tencent declined to comment on the gaming approvals while the National Press and Publication Administration, which is responsible for greenlighting game tiles, and NetEase did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Stocks in listed gaming companies had already been battered earlier in the day after state news agency Xinhua reported on the same meeting.

Xinhua said the meeting aimed to ensure the companies implemented strict new rules to curb gaming addiction among minors, including a ban last month on under-18s playing video games for more than three hours a week, but did not mention the suspension of gaming approvals in the report.

Xinhua also said that companies were told to "resolutely curb incorrect tendencies such as focusing 'only on money' and 'only on traffic', and change rules and gameplay designs that induce players to indulge."

Both Tencent and NetEase said earlier in the day they would comply with the regulators' requests.

"We suggest caution among the Big Tech Internet platforms and online gaming companies," said Qi Wang, CEO of MegaTrust Investment (HK).

"The regulatory pressure will likely last for years not months. Of course investors should take a more long-term view but it’s still to early to tell which companies are better positioned to deal with the on-going regulatory scrutiny."

METAVERSE WARNING

Global and domestic investors have been jolted by an ongoing regulatory squeeze that has sought to root out some of the perceived excesses of the runaway growth in some of China's new economy sectors in recent years.

Separately on Thursday, Chinese state media cautioned investors against blindly buying Chinese stocks hoping to profit from the metaverse, a virtual shared space based on virtual technologies.

The commentary by the official Securities Times follows a recent surge in stocks such as Shenzhen Zhongqingbao Interaction Network and Perfect World that are perceived as developing the metaverse.

Shares in related stocks tumbled after the commentary was published, with Wondershare Technology falling by nearly 11% and Goertek down by almost 9%.

Other regulatory measures have included a crackdown on anticompetitive behaviour among online "platform" companies and seeking greater control of the vast stores of data generated by the industry.

The transport ministry also said on Wednesday it would intensify a crackdown on illegal behaviour in the ride-hailing industry and deal with online platforms that are still using non-compliant vehicles and drivers. (Reporting by Brenda Goh and Alun John; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)