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Tencent Suspends WeChat User Registrations Amid Tech Fears

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(Bloomberg) -- Tencent Holdings Ltd. said it was suspending new user registrations for its WeChat services, adding to uncertainty for the technology sector that’s in the midst of a two-day selloff.

WeChat, which already has more than 1 billion users, is undergoing a “security technical upgrade” in accordance with relevant laws and regulations, Tencent said in an online statement. It expects to resume new individual user registrations around early August.

Investors have fled Tencent and its internet peers over the past two days after China announced its toughest-ever curbs on the online education industry and issued a series of other edicts governing illegal online activity and food delivery. Xi Jinping’s government has over the past nine months embarked on a series of crackdowns on China’s most influential private-sector companies over issues ranging from antitrust to data security, as it seeks to rein in the tech giants’ influence over most of everyday life.

WeChat -- a fixture in daily Chinese life for everything from hailing a cab to ordering meals and paying utilities bills -- plays a central role in funneling traffic to and showcasing Tencent’s businesses. Its services however are largely walled off from users on platforms operated by its rivals, such as Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s main shopping sites. In its release Monday, the tech-industry regulator said its embarking on a campaign to rectify illegal behavior online, including the blocking of external links as well as the collection and storage of data.

Tencent, the most valuable company in China, sank 9% on Tuesday, the most since October 2011. The social media and gaming giant has lost over $100 billion in market value in the past two days, joining a slump in China’s biggest tech companies. Meituan, a Tencent investee, sank a record 18% Tuesday, in part as the antitrust regulator ordered food delivery platforms to ensure delivery drivers’ welfare.

What Bloomberg Intelligence Says:

Tencent’s announcement it’s pausing new user sign-ups for WeChat to implement security upgrades may not have a big impact on user and sales growth. With 1.24 billion monthly active users across WeChat and Weixin, most people who were going to have the app already do. Monthly active users had been projected to expand 3.9% in 3Q21 and 3.1% for 2021, based on consensus.

-- Matthew Kanterman, senior analyst

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