HONG KONG (Reuters) - A cloud of uncertainty hangs over Hong Kong’s plan to float a new listing board to lure technology startups, with the government asking regulators to review their plans and put in place “adequate safeguards” for investors first.
Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Ltd (HKEX) unveiled a proposal in June for the board that would allow companies with share structures providing special voting rights, and let firms that have not yet made a profit get listed.
The move was prompted by the bourse operator’s aim to boost exposure to high-growth sectors that might typically choose a U.S listing due to less stringent rules on profitability and share structures, as Alibaba Group Holding and Baidu Inc have done in the past.
The proposal, however, has been opposed by some experts on worries that corporate governance in the Asian financial hub would take a further hit in the absence of enough shareholder protection measures.
Renewing those concerns, Hong Kong Financial Secretary Paul Chan has asked regulators the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) and the HKEX to take another look at proposed safeguards for the new board to protect investors.
“As to if these companies are allowed to be listed on the stock exchange, whether it would be a new board or to be put in the existing board under a separate chapter, this is a secondary consideration, this should not be too difficult,” he said.
“So under different sets of circumstances now, we do believe, if we can have a proper safeguard design and have them put in place, allowing companies with weighted corporate structures to be listed is not impossible,” Chan said.
The financial secretary made the comments on the sidelines of a conference on Monday, the transcript of which was provided by the government later in the day.
Public consultation for the new board ended in August, with financial industry professionals still divided over the matter.
In response to Chan’s comments, HKEx Chief Executive Charles Li said on Tuesday the consultation had come up with consensus on the broad direction and the exchange was working on the conclusions as well as proposals for a second consultation.
“The consultation is aimed to address a question whether we should do it,” Li said, according to a stock exchange transcript of remarks made to the media in mandarin. “The questions now are how to do it, where to do it (new board or main board) and what kind of investor protection should be introduced.”
Li said the regulators should move quickly to “welcome more new listings” by the new economy companies as soon as possible, and that the bourse operator would continue to discuss the issue with the government and the SFC.
Reporting by Donny Kwok; Additional reporting by Elzio Barreto; Writing by Sumeet Chatterjee; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree and Stephen Coates