Still no end to IPO drought

Some firms prefer private fund-raising amid market volatility and weak global economy

Keppel DC Reit's launch at the end of last year was seen as a sign of a year of exciting big IPOs to come but, so far this year, that has not been the case.
Keppel DC Reit's launch at the end of last year was seen as a sign of a year of exciting big IPOs to come but, so far this year, that has not been the case.PHOTO: KEPPEL CORPORATION LIMITED

When Keppel DC Reit launched its $512.9 million initial public offering (IPO) on the local mainboard last December, investors probably thought it was a sign that Singapore's IPO scene was starting to liven up again.

Nine months on, the market has hardly lived up to this promise, with just nine listings so far this year, and all on junior board Catalist.

Only five of the nine had market capitalisations of over $100 million on Friday.

They included jewellers TLV Holdings and Soo Kee Group, drug maker iX Biopharma and limestone processor GCCP Resources.

The smallest is communications firm CMC Infocomm, with a market cap of $24.9 million.

Singapore's capital markets is one of the casualties of a volatile global market, which has also dampened sentiment in other big stock exchanges, said industry players.

"Capital markets have generally been in the doldrums, exacerbated by the weak China market, low oil prices and the continued threat of the United States Federal Reserve raising interest rates," said Ms Stefanie Yuen Thio, joint managing director of TSMP Law Corporation.

As a result, said Clifford Chance partner Raymond Tong, several firms which had been planning to make their debut on the local market decided to stay on the sidelines for the time being.

"The market sentiment has to be right, not just in Singapore but globally," he said.

"If you look at Malaysia or Indonesia, their IPO scenes are duller this year, too. Even Hong Kong is seeing slower activity compared with previous years."

In a volatile market like this, it makes sense that only smaller firms have been brave enough to move forward with their listings, Mr Tong said. After all, it is easier to raise, say, $10 million than $100 million.

OCBC Bank's head of corporate finance, Ms Tay Toh Sin, agreed: "Although we haven't seen rich primary market offerings thus far, we have been actively helping our customers raise funds via private platforms."

Ms Yuen Thio noted that traditionally, a lot of the big IPOs in Singapore have been real estate investment trusts.

But with land prices falling and the Government imposing increasing constraints on the industrial land sector, the property market has not been ripe for a big IPO.

Another factor that has contributed to theis Singapore's relatively small size, said Rodyk & Davidson senior partner Valerie Ong.

Many of her clients say the local market is too small. "The influx of Chinese listings to the Singapore Exchange preceded the opening up of stock exchanges within China, many with linkages to other bourses now," she said.

Even companies within Asean no longer look in only their backyard to raise funds as the world "has become flatter, especially in the last 10 years", she added.

"These companies also have alternative avenues in private equity, a market which has grown many fold."

Still, the IPO market could pick up next year, the experts said.

Mr Tong, whose firm generally handles listings that aim to raise at least $100 million, said the pipeline looks "decent", while Ms Yuen Thio said her firm is working on six IPOs, all of them for mid-cap companies, and a reverse takeover.

"These are proceeding because the ticket size isn't too daunting and we believe that the mid-cap space is where the bulk of the market action will be for the next 12 months," she said.

Ms Tay said OCBC sees IPOs in the pipeline by companies that are in a better position to withstand the economic headwinds, especially those in defensive sectors such as healthcare, infrastructure and logistics, primarily due to investments made by regional governments.

Ms Ong added that Singapore is seeing a new source of IPOs - from Israel.

"Israeli companies are looking east, following their customers here and we've had increased number of enquiries to list. They like that we have a trusted system, run by quality professionals, operating on rules and principles familiar to them."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2015, with the headline 'Still no end to IPO drought'. Print Edition | Subscribe