Quirky IPOs make a splash in Hong Kong

HONG KONG (AFP) - Nightclubs with diamante toilets, luxury cemeteries and local restaurants have made a splash during their debuts on Hong Kong's stock exchange, proving particularly popular among "mom and pop" investors squeezed out of more mainstream openings.

Investing in unconventional companies can be something of a gamble. But recent soaring debuts in Hong Kong - known as initial public offerings (IPOs) - show significant enthusiasm among ordinary investors hoping to make a quick return on the stock exchange's less orthodox offerings, analysts say.

In a city where betting is strictly limited to the horses and some soccer matches, and where the average punter often loses out to institutional investors in the more mainstream IPOs, quirky debuts offer everyday investors an exciting, if somewhat risky, opportunity to dabble on the city's stock exchange.

"Hong Kong, mainland China even more, are in the sort of gambling mentality. There is always somebody willing to take your money if you are willing to give it to them," Mr Doug Young, a Shanghai-based writer on capital markets and Chinese corporates, told AFP.

"People have an impression that the stock market is the place that you can get good return even though it's not always the truth. It is the mindset of a newer market," he added.

Hong Kong was the world's top IPO venue from 2009 to 2011, and while it has fallen away recently the New Year has started with a bang, especially for less orthodox companies.

Fu Shou Yuan, the largest mainland Chinese funeral services provider, saw its December US$215 million (S$271 million) IPO oversubscribed by nearly 700 percent, while its shares have risen more than 40 percent since its debut to Friday's close of HK$4.8 (S$0.78).

Cemeteries are big business in China, where the country's growing middle classes are increasingly willing to spend large amounts on plots of lands for their loved ones when they depart.

One cemetery managed by Fu Shou Yuan is located in a scenic Shanghai location and boasts original landscaping, artistic tombstones and a mixture of classical Chinese and modern architecture, according to the cemetery's website.

At the less morbid end of Hong Kong's recent unorthodox IPO offerings is Magnum Entertainment, a nightclub operator that owns three venues in the city's famously raucous Lan Kwai Fong entertainment district.

On any given weekend night, the glitterati can be seen waiting in lines to access the kind of haunts where the bling flows as freely as the champagne. One Magnum club sports life-sized bronze bull statues on its outdoor terrace, while another is renowned for its diamante-encrusted washrooms.

When Magnum listed in January it was a red hot item, raising HK$126 million for its IPO, and was 3,500 times oversubscribed, a record for the city. Its share price soared 90 percent on the first day.

According to copies of the entertainment group's IPO prospectus that were posted online, Magnum may have been aware some of its potential investors might not be entirely au fait with what a modern nightclub looks like.

A club, the prospectus stated, is "filled with images of people moving in unison to the beat of synthesised remixed dance and electronic music spun out by a DJ perched upon an elevated stage".

Their bars, it added, sell drinks "generally known as alcoholic beverage served by glass and prepared by bartenders mixing different alcohol and ingredients".

Second-hand luxury handbag retailer Milan Station held the record for being the most oversubscribed IPO until Magnum toppled its crown early this year.

The retailer grabbed 77 percent more than its IPO price of HK$1.67 on its trading debut in 2011, and was 2,000 times oversubscribed.

Such eagerness should perhaps come as little surprise in a city which consumes luxury goods in vast quantities - and where many designer stores are so popular they employ bouncers to operate a "one in one out" policy.

But investing in unconventional companies for a quick return can come with high risks, analysts warn.

"This is all a speculator's game," Geo Securities CEO Francis Lun told AFP.

"It's like a casino more than a stock market," Mr Lun said, adding that as long as investors subscribe and "play the market", the shares in the company will be successful.

Magnum shares have dropped since its January 23 listing from a high of HK$2.84 to HK$2.23 on Friday. The same day, Milan Station's shares closed at HK$0.87, a far cry from the HK$1.67 IPO price.

"Most investors at that moment are subscribing due to short term profit," Core Pacific Yamaichi head of research Castor Pang said, adding that share price surges for such companies are usually a short-to-medium term phenomenon.

At the more mainstream end of the market, large companies are still making impressive IPOs despite the comparative drop off from the halcyon days between 2009 and 2011.

Sinopec Engineering, part of state-owned Chinese oil giant Sinopec, raised US$1.8 billion for its May 2013 IPO, in one of the biggest deals of the year.

In December, China Cinda, a state-owned debts management firm, raised US$2.5 billion and saw its shares surge almost 30 percent on its debut.

But not all major IPOs have met expectations. The stock market debut of a utility trust owned by Asia's richest man Li Ka Shing went with a whimper not a bang in January, despite being Hong Kong's biggest IPO of the year so far.

Analysts like Mr Young believe the average mom and pop investor will continue subscribing to quirky IPOs as long as the market remains in good shape.

"There hasn't been a really bad downturn in the market," he said.

"But when they lose enough money they will probably stop doing that."

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