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Tesla stocks lose luster among Korean investors

A car charges at a Tesla super charging station in Arlington, Virginia on Aug. 13. (AFP-Yonhap)
A car charges at a Tesla super charging station in Arlington, Virginia on Aug. 13. (AFP-Yonhap)
South Korean investors’ appetite for shares in electric vehicle maker Tesla has been on the wane over the past few months, with many turning to vaccine-related stocks, including Moderna, data showed Monday.

While Tesla remains a top pick for Korean investors, with combined holdings of $9.7 billion as of Aug. 10 -- the highest here among US-listed stocks -- there were signs that Koreans had begun selling off shares in the world’s largest electric car maker in June, according to data compiled by the Korea Securities Depository.

In June, Korean investors sold off $811 million worth of Tesla shares while purchasing just $784.3 million. June was the first month since December 2019 in which there were more sellers than buyers of Tesla stock.

The sell-off trend continued in July with sales of Tesla shares amounting to $756.8 million, outsizing $716.1 million in purchases.

From Aug. 1. to Aug. 10, following Tesla’s second-quarter earnings release, sales and purchases by Korean investors were equal at $356.6 million, the latest data showed.

In the meantime, Korean investors continued to buy into US-listed shares, as they bought shares worth $32.1 billion from June through Thursday and sold shares worth less than $30.4 billion, according to the KSD data.

The Palo Alto, California-based electric vehicle maker was apparently the favorite among Koreans over the past couple of years. Tesla has been the most-owned foreign stock among Korean investors since July 2020, beating all the “Big Tech” firms in the US.

Koreans’ penchant for the company behind the futuristic electricity-powered engines and autonomous driving technology is giving way to doubts about its momentum for the meme stock’s price rise, despite the recent earnings surprise.

Tesla’s share price fell 10 percent over the six months ending Friday following choppy sessions. Part of the losses were offset by the recent rebound in late July after a second-quarter earnings release in which Tesla logged a $1.3 billion operating income, up fourfold year-on-year.

Koreans were also seen selling off an exchange-traded fund product called Ark Innovation ETF, popular for its 10 percent weighting in Tesla.

Since March, Korean traders had divested $400 million worth of the flagship active ETF product from Ark Invest, while Koreans purchased just over $260 million worth of the same product during the same period. Korean divestments outweighed purchases each month.

Instead, Koreans began to turn to vaccine maker stocks amid soaring global demand for booster shots and their approval from health authorities in countries including the US.

Vaccine maker Moderna has recently drawn keen attention from Korean investors. From July until Aug. 10, Moderna stocks drew $430 million worth of orders from Korean investors -- making it the fourth-largest US-listed stock after Tesla, Amazon and Apple -- while receiving $368 million in sell orders. Moderna’s stock price more than doubled over the six months ending Friday.

Other vaccine stocks that were popular among Koreans within the top 50 list included Novavax and Pfizer, according to the KSD data.

By Son Ji-hyoung (