Temasek trims stakes on China’s shoppers and raises bets on its tourists

An undated photo of a signage at Singapore state investor Temasek Holdings' headquarters in the Southeast Asian city-state.
Bryan van der Beek | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Temasek appears to be betting China's consumers will ease back on the retail therapy in favor of hitting the road, cutting its stake in e-commerce giant Alibaba while boosting its online travel site Ctrip holdings.

In the fourth quarter, Singapore's state-owned investment fund sold a little more than 4 million shares in China-based and U.S. listed Alibaba, taking its holdings down to around 35.5 million shares valued at $3.12 billion.

That's according to its 13F-HR filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The fund sharply raised its holding in Chinese travel-booking website CTrip to 4.78 million shares in the fourth quarter, up from 350,159 in the third quarter, for a stake valued at around $191.1 million at the end of last year.

Temasek already held around 8.19 million shares in Ctrip competitor Tuniu, a Chinese online platform for leisure-travel packages. That stake fell in value to $71.7 million at the end of the fourth quarter from $82.93 million at the end of the third quarter.

Betting on itchy Chinese feet isn't too much of a gamble: In 2015, China outbound departures reached 128 million, 9.7 percent higher than a year earlier, with plenty of scope for the number to increase since just 5 percent of China's population holds a passport, according to analysts at Natixis.

The investment fund has targeted the consumer sector as a key investment theme globally, particularly aimed at growing consumption in emerging markets.

While it sold part of its Alibaba stake, Temasek clearly isn't giving up on ecommerce in China.

Temasek kept its stake in steady at 7.3 million shares in the fourth quarter, according to an SEC filing, while adding nearly 129,000 shares of, marking a fresh stake in the U.S. company. However, Temasek said in an email that it had recently added to its stake, but then later clarified that its stake remained at the level of the filing.

Temasek took a stake of 12.18 million shares in Chinese express delivery company ZTO Express, valued at $146.98 million at the end of the quarter. ZTO Express, which delivers packages for Chinese ecommerce behemoths and Alibaba, held a U.S. initial public offering (IPO) in the fourth quarter, raising around $1.4 billion and marking one of 2016's largest IPOs.

In the email, Temasek noted that the filing declares its listed holdings in the U.S.

The changes to the fund's holdings "reflect the ongoing portfolio rebalancing we undertake from time to time, sometimes responding to market movements and opportunities to sell, or buy," Stephen Forshaw, managing director of public affairs at Temasek, said via email.

"We added counters such as Mastercard, Visa and Amazon, reflecting or views on the consumer economy and the companies that support it."

While Temasek sold some of its Alibaba stake, it remained among the company's largest shareholders, he noted.

The fund bought around 267,000 MasterCard shares, valued at around $27.57 million at the end of the quarter, and added 1.52 million shares in Visa, valued at around $118.77 million.

And it may have expected consumers might use their credit cards on their smart phones, because it also added around 243,000 shares of mobile security software company NQ Mobile, valued at around $784,000 at the end of the quarter.

But Temasek cut its stake in private-label credit card issuer Synchrony Financial, which has partnerships with Amazon and Cathay Pacific. It sold 5.44 million shares in the fourth quarter, taking its holding down to 1.12 million shares valued at $40.6 million.

—By CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter @LeslieShaffer1

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