Mon, Dec 13, 2010 - Page 11 News List

Hong Kong leads IPO race for a second year running

AFP, HONG KONG

Hong Kong is set to claim top spot as the world’s hottest IPO market this year, raising over US$51 billion, but observers say the city’s bourse must shrink its heavy reliance on China.

The financial hub was far outpacing New York, Shenzhen and Shanghai by early this month, according to figures from Dealogic, the second year in a row that Hong Kong has led the world in initial public offerings (IPO).

New York’s US$31.39 billion fundraising bid was a shadow of Hong Kong’s eye-watering total, with Shenzhen and Shanghai trailing behind Wall Street, Dealogic said.

“It’s definitely an achievement — Hong Kong can claim to be both an international financial center and a gateway to mainland China,” said Liu Qiao (劉俏), an associate business professor at Hong Kong University. “It’s a very good platform for Chinese companies to tap international capital, something that would be hard for Shanghai to catch in the short term.”

However, Hong Kong’s windfall this year — eclipsing the more than US$30 billion it raised last year — was largely because of monster share sales by Asian insurer AIA last month and Agricultural Bank of China (AgBank, 中國農業銀行) last summer.

AgBank set a world IPO record at the time by raising US$22.1 billion, while AIA garnered US$20.5 billion from its share sale.

“Now, all the major banks in China have listed. The only thing left are the electricity utilities and maybe the railways,” said Francis Lun (藺常念), general manager of Hong Kong’s Fulbright Securities (富昌證券). “It will be difficult to occupy the crown three years running.”

Hong Kong’s rise in recent years can largely be traced to Beijing’s wide-scale move to privatize state-owned enterprises, many laden with crippling debt and questionable balance sheets.

“Hong Kong has benefited from these policies and this wave still continues for now, but you can’t tie yourself to the mainland Chinese market,” Liu said.

The exchange has wooed some foreign firms, including UC Rusal, the world’s biggest aluminum producer, which listed last January after raising US$2.2 billion — a move criticized by corporate governance experts.

Cosmetics group L’Occitane raised US$704 million in May, becoming the first French firm listed in Hong Kong, while Brazilian mining giant Vale listed in the city earlier this month, although it didn’t raise new money.

About 9 percent of firms listed in Hong Kong hail from outside China.

And some critics say Hong Kong’s breakneck growth has come at a heavy price, with the bourse accused of sacrificing quality to land new listings.

It came under fire for listing heavily indebted Rusal, whose chief executive, Oleg Deripaska, has repeatedly denied persistent claims over his alleged ties to Russian organized crime.

The firm’s shares remained 6.5 percent below their IPO price as of Friday.

A boardroom brawl at GOME (國美), China’s biggest appliance chain, saw its founder try to oust the firm’s current chief and install his relatives on the board — a move engineered from his prison cell after being jailed for corruption.

“There is tremendous pressure on the [exchange’s] listing committee to approve initial public offerings,” said Jamie Allen, -secretary-general of the Asian Corporate Governance Association.

Allen said there was not enough attention paid to investor protection rules or corporate governance in a firm’s home country.

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