Hong Kong poised to reclaim IPO crown

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    By Alec Macfarlane

    HONG KONG- Hong Kong will rise again in at least one financial realm. Only twice – in post-crisis 2009 and 2010 – has the local bourse managed to outduel the combined power of the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq for new equity issuance. Violent pro-democracy protests present a significant challenge, but there are strong countervailing forces that put the Asian financial hub in position to reclaim the IPO crown.

    The Hong Kong stock exchange has ascended from a sleepy backwater to regularly contending for hot initial public offerings. Chinese state-owned enterprises have helped, including the last time it dominated with over $51 billion in new capital raised compared to $35 billion in the Big Apple, according to data provider Dealogic. Agricultural Bank of China 601 was a big factor a decade ago, as was AIG-owned insurer AIA.

    The bigger battleground nowadays is in technology and the scales are tipping in Hong Kong’s favor. There are over 100 mainland-based startups privately valued at a collective $400 billion, according to research firm CB Insights. ByteDance, the $75 billion owner of the TikTok video app, ride-hailing company Didi Chuxing and $150 billion fintech super-unicorn Ant Financial are among a more promising group closing in on market debuts than a US field that includes home-sharing outfit Airbnb.

    Many Chinese companies have opted to sell their shares under the bright lights of Broadway, but Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing under boss Charles Li has been rolling out the red carpet closer to home. It built links with Shanghai and Shenzhen to provide access to closely controlled mainland capital. It also relaxed rules on super-voting shares.

    Those moves helped allure the likes of food-delivery giant Meituan Dianping, whose strong stock performance provides a helpful advertisement for Hong Kong.

    The United States also may be less hospitable. There are rumblings on Capitol Hill about delisting Chinese shares. Scrutiny over corporate data issues is also intensifying amid louder trade-war rhetoric. Alibaba, the New York-listed e-commerce titan, journeyed to Hong Kong to raise $13 billion in a secondary listing in November. That should help send a strong signal to new issuers about overcoming unrest in the city and further help the exchange beat its Manhattan rivals in 2020.