Fri, Jun 01, 2012 - Page 10 News List

London’s Graff Diamonds postpones Hong Kong IPO

BAD TIMING:In a sudden overnight decision, apparently driven by intensifying fears over the European debt crisis and China’s slowing economy, the IPO was put on hold

AP, Hong Kong

A bodyguard stands next to a jewelry display window during the Graff Diamonds initial public offering roadshow in Hong Kong on Monday last week.

Photo: Reuters

London jeweler Graff Diamonds is putting its US$1.5 billion Hong Kong initial public offering (IPO) on hold because of a steep sell-off in global stock markets.

In a brief statement yesterday, Graff blamed adverse market conditions for the decision to postpone the IPO in the territory.

“Consistently declining stock markets proved to be a significant barrier to executing the transaction at this time,” the company said.

The jeweler, which gets half of its revenue from less than two dozen customers, would have been the latest in a line of foreign brands to go public in Hong Kong. Italian fashion label Prada SpA and luggage maker Samsonite International SA held IPOs last year, while US luxury handbag maker Coach Inc launched a secondary listing.

Foreign companies are seeking to cash in on rising investor interest in China, the world’s second-biggest economy, and to raise their brand profiles with the country’s rapidly expanding pool of newly wealthy consumers.

In a prospectus filed earlier with the Hong Kong stock exchange, Graff outlined plans for a strategic expansion in Asia, focusing on China. Plans included opening shops this year in Hong Kong, Macau, Shanghai and Hangzhou, as well as Tokyo.

The company also intends to open five more stores next year, most of them in Asia.

The company said that demand for diamond engagement rings is rising sharply in China, where ownership levels are still far from rates in the US and Japan.

Graff’s decision to yank its IPO appears to have been made overnight, as markets in the US and Europe tumbled on intensifying fears over the European sovereign debt crisis and China’s slowing economy. Hong Kong’s benchmark Hang Seng Index ended 1.9 percent lower on Wednesday and is down nearly 15 percent in the past three months.

Hong Kong newspapers still carried ads yesterday from the company detailing plans to sell up to 311.2 million shares for as much as HK$37 a share. That means the deal would have raised up to US$1.5 billion.

Founder Laurence Graff, who opened his first two stores in London in 1962, has earned a reputation for dealing in large stones. In 2010, Graff paid US$46 million at a Swiss auction for a 24.78 carat “fancy intense pink” diamond, which he immediately named “The Graff Pink.”

Last year, the company earned nearly half its US$755.6 million revenue from just 20 customers.

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