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2020 A Banner China IPO Year

Updated: May 13, 2021

For 20 years, I-OnAsia has been the market leader in Pre-IPO due diligence. Our team covers the China markets extensively.

The following summary was prepared by a member of our staff.

What are the current issues for Chinese companies seeking foreign listings?

The US, Hong Kong, the UK – these are the classic markets for a globally minded Chinese company to seek an IPO or a dual listing. However, each of these three markets is facing historic levels of uncertainty: US elections are underway, Brexit occurs in January, and even Hong Kong’s status as an independent financial center faces challenge.

2020 will go down in history as a year of exceptions, and while each country has tried to manage the virus in a different way, even those that have succeeded in stopping the spread are seeing just how inexorably tied to the global economy we all are. One of the bigger surprises, however, has been how quickly US stock markets have rebounded with some even trading above pre-Corona levels. 2020 was a banner year for international-Chinese IPO listings, with more than 20 Chinese companies listing on US exchanges. These companies are typically in high-tech industries such as software or electronics, and in total have raised over $4 billion. A notable example is KE Holdings which raised $2.1 billion on the NYSE, making it the largest IPO in the US by a Chinese company since 2018. KE Holdings now trades at a $72 billion market cap. Chinese gaming giant Netease, ecommerce firm as well as the fintech giant Ant Group have sought their listings in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, in London, the world’s largest hydropower producer, China Yangtze Power, has launched its secondary listing, aiming to raise up to $3.4 billion.

For as long as Chinese stock markets are not completely open to foreign investors, Chinese companies with international strategies will continue to rely on overseas exchanges to attract foreign investment.

The US exchanges (NASDAQ and NYSE) are the highest profile choices for Chinese companies seeking listing, no matter the political headwinds – the allure of listing across both the world’s largest economies is irresistible. With its well-regulated markets and access to a massive pool of investors, the US offers an unbeatable venue for an international Chinese listing. Closer to home, the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (HKSE) is still an obvious place for mainland companies to list. However, since the establishment of the Sci-Tech Innovation Board (Star Market) on the Shanghai exchange in 2019, a large number of companies have chosen to list on this new and tech friendly exchange. There are a few Chinese companies listed in London, such as Air China, Datang International Power Generation Company, and Zhejiang Expressway, but the US and HK exchanges remain more popular choices for the majority of Chinese companies seeking overseas listings. Other markets do see the occasional Chinese listing, with two companies listing in India this year, and one on the Philippines stock exchange, by example.

China is gradually opening up its financial sector. This deregulation offers exciting new opportunities for foreign investment in China, and in turn will help China’s capital markets reach global standards. This may lead to Chinese companies’ needs being met with a purely domestic listing. It is a long road, and will take many years, but I do expect the Shanghai Stock Exchange to eventually overtake some of the larger western exchanges one day.

How will due diligence services continue to deliver value to Chinese companies seeking foreign listings, and their advisors?

Tensions between the US and China are at their highest they have been in many years: Trade Wars, Tik Tok and so on. This year may have felt like a decade, but it was only two months ago the Trump administration asked the exchanges to delist Chinese companies unless they comply with US audit requirements by January 2022. That deadline is just 15 months away now.

Meanwhile, certain Chinese companies still “push the boundaries” with some bad actors engaging in wholly fraudulent practices. The recent accounting scandal at Luckin Coffee is just one example and has also increased the pressure for Chinese companies to be transparent and to comply with the laws and regulations of the market they list on.

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