SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China's three biggest telcos saw their shares drop as much as 5% in Hong Kong on Monday, the first trading session since the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) said it would delist the firms under a plan China branded "political" and of "limited" impact.
The NYSE on Thursday said it would delist China Mobile Ltd, China Telecom Corp Ltd and China Unicom Hong Kong Ltd following the U.S. government's move in November to block investment in 31 firms that it said are owned or controlled by China's military.
The China Securities Regulatory Commission, in a question-and-answer posted on its website on Sunday, said the plan was "politically motivated".
The move "completely disregards the actual situation of the relevant companies and the legitimate rights and interests of global investors and severely undermines normal market rules," it said.
The American Deposit Receipts listed by the three telcos have a combined market value of under 20 billion yuan ($3.07 billion), or 2.2% of the firms' equity, the regulator said.
"Even if delisted, the direct impact on the companies' development and market operation is quite limited," it said.
China Mobile's shares fell as much as 4.5% in Hong Kong on Monday to HK$42.20, their lowest price since July 2007. China Telecom fell as much as 5.6% and China Unicom lost 3.4% versus a 0.8% rise in the benchmark Hang Seng Index.
All three said they had not received any delisting notification from the NYSE.
In a research note, Citic Securities analysts said the delisting decision matched expectations.
"The three firms on average only have 1.5% of their shares listed in the U.S. and the rest in Hong Kong, have ample liquidity, and haven't done any fundraising in the U.S. for 20 years. Having shares listed in the U.S. will only pose more risk for them."
Washington has stepped up its hard-line stance against China in recent weeks. In December, it added dozens of Chinese firms to a trade blacklist, accusing Beijing of using them to harness civilian technology for military purposes.
On Saturday, China's commerce ministry said it would take "necessary measures" to safeguard Chinese firms' interests.
"In recent years it's been quite normal to see Chinese firms delist in the U.S. or have secondary listings in Hong Kong," Citic analysts wrote on Monday. "With the delisting, the three telcos will get a chance to have their shares re-evaluated and reduce financial disclosure cost."
($1 = 6.5250 yuan)
(Reporting by Engen Tham, Wang Jing, Samuel Shen and Pei Li; Editing by Christopher Cushing)