Bankers leave little upside for new Hong Kong IPO

By Wei Gu
October 5, 2009

A dozen or so companies have raised money in Hong Kong over the past month to cash in on rebounding equity markets, but that window is threatening to close after a string of poor debuts.

   Glorious Property was the latest, falling by 15 percent on its debut on Friday. Its poor performance came on the heels of China South City, a real-estate developer in Guangdong province, which had the worst trading debut in Hong Kong this year by falling 23 percent.
  Even companies in more stable businesses, such as men’s clothing retailer Lilang and sports shoes maker Peak Sport, also fell below their offer prices last month.

   One reason for the wobble is that issuers and investment banks seem to have been greedy. IPOs are generally priced at a discount to comparable listed stocks to reflect risk and to encourage trading in the after market. But with strong investor demand, they have steadily been whittling away at the discount and relying on the froth in the market to get issues away.

   Of late, IPOs have often been more than 100 times oversubscribed with institutions as well as retail investors vying for stock. Thanks to cheap and freely available money, it has been possible for investors to borrow to fund their IPO purchases. Banks have been offering interest rates on IPO loans as low as 1.8 percent.

   But market sentiment has changed dramatically, with the Heng Sang Chinese Enterprises Index <.HSCE> down almost 10 percent in the past two weeks. This has suddenly made IPOs which had set aggressive ranges seem expensive. Glorious Property actually priced its IPO towards the bottom of the range but it still received a poor response.

   From a position of excessive enthusiasm, sentiment has now snapped the other way. Retail investors have become more cautious. Some banks have stopped offering IPO loans to retail investors, which will further temper demand for new issues.

   But the message hasn’t yet got through to some issuers. Las Vegas casino company Wynn Resorts priced its Hong Kong IPO at the top of its indicated range, which values it at a much higher multiple than Macau gambling tycoon Stanley Ho’s flagship casino firm SJM Holdings. This looks pretty daring.

   Issuers are starting to widen their pricing range on the downside to take account of softening demand, but this only solves part of the problem. A wider band makes it even more difficult for investors to calculate the risk involved. Retail investors are particularly vulnerable, because they cannot place price limits on their orders and so risk paying the most expensive price in the range.

   It looks as if investment bankers are going to have an uncomfortable time of it in the near future. They still have 30 to 40 companies in the pipeline which were trying to make the cut before a second-dip in the market and economy. Persuading investors to buy them may take all of their ingenuity.


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