December 21, 2018 / 12:21 AM / a month ago

Hong Kong takes global IPO crown, looks to a quieter 2019

HONG KONG (Reuters) - A flurry of initial public offerings (IPOs) in Hong Kong propelled the financial centre to first place for IPO volumes globally, but next year is unlikely to see as many big-ticket listings.

Companies raised a total of $36.3 billion in Hong Kong listings this year, well ahead of New York Stock Exchange’s $28.9 billion, and a 174 percent increase on year-on-year, according to Refinitiv data.

That is Hong Kong’s best year since 2010, as a change in listing rules to allow dual-class share structures and pre-revenue biotech companies to list led to a queue of so-called new economy companies seeking to go public in the city.

Hong Kong hosted three of Asia’s top five IPOs - smartphone maker Xiaomi’s (1810.HK) $5.4 billion float, mobile telecommunications tower operator China Tower’s (0788.HK) $7.5 billion IPO and online food delivery-to-ticketing services firm Meituan Dianping’s (3690.HK) $4.9 billion listing.

Across Asia, companies raised a total of $109 billion in IPOs, up 27 percent from 2017, Refinitiv data showed, much of it driven by China whose companies accounted for almost a third of global issuers.

But bankers do not expect the same number of multi-billion dollar deals next year, or even the same volumes, as supply begins to thin and market volatility makes going public less appealing.

Some of the big-ticket candidates being mooted include Chinese wealth management platform Lufax, the owner of China’s leading news aggregator Beijing Bytedance Technology Co and Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing Technology Co Ltd - although bankers say they could also come in 2020.

“Given the early market receptivity, many IPOs came to market earlier than anticipated,” said Aaron Arth, Head of Financing Group, Asia ex-Japan, at Goldman Sachs. “2019 will still be a pretty big year for ECM (equity capital markets), it’s just not going to be at the magnitude of 2018.”

But while IPO volumes surged in 2018, performance went in the opposite direction, as markets were buffeted by U.S.-China trade tensions and macroeconomic uncertainty.

Chinese shares have been particularly badly hit, with the Shanghai Composite Index .SSEC down 23 percent and the Hong Kong benchmark .HSI down 14 percent this year.

In Hong Kong many new listings have slumped below their IPO prices and posted the worst performance among leading bourses.

And across Asia, all of the top five IPOs bar one - China Tower - have sunk below their offer prices.

That includes Xiaomi, Meituan Dianping, SoftBank Corp (9434.T) - which was the world’s second-biggest IPO to date - and Foxconn Industrial Internet (601138.SS).

MATURING OF THE MARKET

Bankers say that part of the reason IPOs have performed poorly in Hong Kong is that the market still needs to adjust to the high-growth companies coming to list, having been previously dominated by unexciting Chinese state-owned enterprises.

“It’s all part of a maturing of the market,” said John Hall, Co-Head of Investment Banking Coverage, Asia Pacific, at JPMorgan.

“The poor performance has more to do with people’s skittishness ... the Hong Kong market is less experienced dealing with high-growth companies.”

The lack of experience is especially evident in the biotech sector, as people struggle to value companies with no revenues, let alone profits.

“It’s one thing to change the rules to allow it (biotech listings) but you also need the infrastructure around that ... you need the understanding of the sector. That is slowly happening here so we’ve had a handful of deals, not perhaps the deluge that everybody was expecting,” said Richard Taylor, Head of Corporate Finance and Capital Markets at CLSA.

However, firms looking to go public have increasingly started to look to New York as an alternative because of Hong Kong’s performance, bankers say.

New York still has a deeper and more sophisticated investor base as well as more flexibility around pricing which could make it a more attractive destination for some companies, although Hong Kong remains an obvious choice for Chinese corporates.

“I wouldn’t say it’s any kind of exodus at all. Hong Kong is still a very viable listing venue for Chinese companies,” said Ashu Khullar, Head of Asia Pacific Capital Markets Origination for Citigroup.

Reporting by Julia Fioretti; Editing by Stephen Coates

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