News analysis

Hong Kong poised to reclaim IPO crown

Hong Kong will rise again in at least one financial realm. Only twice - in post-crisis 2009 and 2010 - has the local bourse managed to outduel the combined power of the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq for new equity issuance.

Violent pro-democracy protests present a significant challenge, but there are strong countervailing forces that put the Asian financial hub in position to reclaim the IPO (initial public offering) crown.

The Hong Kong Stock Exchange has ascended from a sleepy backwater to regularly contending for hot IPOs.

Chinese state-owned enterprises have helped, including the last time it dominated with over US$51 billion (S$69 billion) in new capital raised, compared with US$35 billion in the Big Apple, according to data provider Dealogic. Agricultural Bank of China was a big factor a decade ago, as was insurer AIA.

The amount raised from IPOs in Hong Kong fell by about a third last year from a year earlier as anti-government protests and the United States-China trade war weakened investor sentiment.

New issuers raised US$22.3 billion between January and Dec 5 last year, according to Dealogic, down from US$33.4 billion in 2018.

By comparison, New York's Nasdaq enjoyed its best year for IPOs since the dot.com bubble peaked in 2000, raising US$32.4 billion, thanks to big listings of companies such as ride-hailing outfit Lyft, online dental service SmileDirectClub and exercise-bicycle maker Peloton.

But the bigger battleground nowadays is in technology and the scales are tipping in Hong Kong's favour. There are over 100 mainland-based start-ups privately valued at a collective US$400 billion, according to research firm CB Insights.

ByteDance, the US$75 billion owner of the TikTok video app, ride-hailing company Didi Chuxing and US$150 billion fintech super-unicorn Ant Financial are among a more promising group closing in on market debuts than a US field that includes home-sharing outfit Airbnb.

 
 
 
 

Many Chinese companies have opted to sell their shares under the bright lights of Broadway, but Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing, under boss Charles Li, has been rolling out the red carpet closer to home. It built links with Shanghai and Shenzhen to provide access to closely controlled mainland capital. It also relaxed rules on super-voting shares.

Those moves helped lure the likes of food-delivery giant Meituan Dianping, whose strong stock performance provides a helpful advertisement for Hong Kong.

The US may also be less hospitable. There are rumblings on Capitol Hill about delisting Chinese shares. Scrutiny over corporate data issues is also intensifying amid louder trade-war rhetoric.

Alibaba, the New York-listed e-commerce titan, journeyed to Hong Kong to raise US$13 billion in a secondary listing last November. That should help send a strong signal to new issuers about overcoming unrest in the city and further help the exchange beat its Manhattan rivals this year.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 07, 2020, with the headline 'Hong Kong poised to reclaim IPO crown'. Print Edition | Subscribe