New paths to funds in tough IPO times
As the euro-zone sovereign debt crisis and the faltering US economy cast a pall over global markets, the initial public offering (IPO) market is drying up, forcing European companies to be more inventive about raising money.
Charles Cryer, chief executive of Capita Registrars, Britain's biggest provider of share registration services, said retail bonds were becoming more popular in an environment of low interest rates and high inflation expectations.
Retail bonds are usually targeted at the issuer's staff and customers but offer higher returns.
'We see that trend moving to Asia,' Cryer said.
'John Lewis raised GBP50 million (HK$609 million) back in 2011, and some other retailer is trying to raise more now.
'If the trend continues and if the UK public get used to the idea of retail bonds, you will see the number involved going up.'
Bonds are generally considered a good buy in a low interest rate environment because of their guaranteed return.
British retailer John Lewis targeted its retail bonds at its then 70,000 staff and 1.5 million customers.
The five-year fixed rate bond allowed investors to invest a lump sum of between GBP1,000 and GBP10,000 for a fixed annual return of 4.5 per cent in cash and a further 2 per cent paid in John Lewis gift vouchers.
Following the example of John Lewis, British utility Severn Trent Water announced earlier this week that it was launching an inflation-linked bond that promises to pay 1.3 per cent above the retail price index.
This debt issue resembles the inflation-linked bonds issued by the Hong Kong government, which also link returns to the inflation rate, offering investor protection against rising prices and an alternative to parking funds in a bank earning little interest.
For issuers, retail bonds are cheaper and less risky compared with the potential pitfalls and headaches involved in an IPO or secondary listing - especially when most markets have turned decidedly risk-averse, Cryer says.
According to Dealogic, global listing volume halved in the first half of the year to US$57.7 billion raised through 385 deals.
This compared with US$115 billion through 765 deals in the same period a year earlier.
As of Friday, 137 initial public offerings and new listings worth US$30.7 billion around the world have been withdrawn so far. Withdrawn listings in Asia, excluding Japan, reached US$10.6 billion as 55 deals were pulled, including the US$1 billion Hong Kong listing of British luxury jeweller Graff Diamonds and the Singapore listing of English football team Manchester United.
Despite the drop-off, Hong Kong and Singapore remained the two most interesting capital markets for companies from Britain and Europe, said Kim Teo, chief executive officer of Boardroom, Singapore's biggest share registration service provider.
'Companies are attracted to growth, and Hong Kong is the gateway to China,' Teo said.
'Singapore, on the other hand, is the gateway to Southeast Asia. They are the top listing destinations for international companies in Asia.'