01.04.2018

Hong Kong Exchange Overhauls Listings Rules

Talk about throwing the baby out with the bath water.

The Hong Kong Stock Exchange has announced a sweeping list of changes designed to promote listings on the Far East bourse. The exchange is looking to attract high- and bio- tech listings amid the current technology boom.

The bourse will abandon an earlier plan for a so-called Third Board for start-ups, but instead create two additional chapters in its listing regulations for biotechnology firms and companies with multiple classes of shares to raise capital, according to the Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Limited, the market operator.

“The market has changed substantially in 30 years, it’s time to make a change,” said chief executive of the bourse, Charles Li Xiaojia, in response to a media inquiry. “If we don’t change our listing rules, we will miss the boat.”

According to the South China Post, the overhaul closes a chapter in the debate raging since late 2014 when Alibaba Group Holding chose New York instead of Hong Kong for its US$25 billion stock offer, then the world’s largest sale. At issue was whether the listing regulations and procedures of Hong Kong’s stock market – dominated by financial companies, industrial firms and developers – are flexible or competitive enough for the legions of start-ups, fintech companies and tech firms to raise capital.

“We may have missed some big players, but it is not too late,” Li Xiaojia said in Hong Kong . “After the change in the rules, many of the Chinese companies that are seeking to list in the US may also consider listing in Hong Kong.”

The overhaul in the rules is “definitely the right move, if Hong Kong intends to attract more new economy companies,” said Brian Gu, JPMorgan Chase & Co’s chairman of Asia-Pacific investment banking, adding that more Chinese companies are likely to be attracted by Hong Kong as a result. “It’s positive for Hong Kong.”

Under the HKSE’s new rules effective in mid-2018, biotech firms need at least HK$1.5 billion in valuation at the time of their listing, but they need not have any revenue track record to raise funds in the city.

Companies with multiple classes of shares must be engaged in businesses classified as new economy, with at least HK$10 billion in valuation and annual revenue of at least HK$1 billion. Businesses with valuations exceeding HK$40 billion (US$5.1 billion) can raise funds in Hong Kong with a lower revenue threshold, according to the new rules.

New rules will be in place to protect shareholders, whereby the ratio of the rights of the different classes of shares cannot exceed 1 to 10. Sunset clauses must also be inserted for the special voting rights in the case of the company founder’s demise, stock disposals or resignation as directors.

Technology companies with more than HK$10 billion in market value that are already listed elsewhere will be eligible for a secondary listing in Hong Kong, with their existing shareholding structure, according to the new rules.

Li said HKEX will have all the rules ready “by the middle of 2018”.

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