A mountain to climb for Buddhist site IPO

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 July, 2012, 12:00am


Plans to list on the stock exchange by the manager of iconic Buddhist shrine Putuo Mountain are likely to inflame a row over commercialising important religious sites.

Putuo Mountain Tourism Development confirmed it would soon file a multimillion-yuan initial public offering application to fund further development of the site - an island southeast of Shanghai in Zhejiang - which draws millions of followers of Guanyin, a Bodhisattva, every year.

'We are making the listing plan and expect to submit an application very soon,' an official with the firm who did not wish to be named told the South China Morning Post. 'Lots of details are still being discussed.'

Local governments came under fire in June from the State Administration for Religious Affairs, which said they were increasingly chasing profits by commercialising the country's religious sites.

Liu Wei, an official with the administration, was quoted by Xinhua as saying that temples could not be listed on stock markets.

The Putuo Mountain official said the firm had yet to decide whether temples would be among the assets to be listed. There are more than 300 temples on Putuo Mountain, which is located in the Zhoushan Islands. Putuo is one of four sacred mountains in Chinese Buddhism where followers of Guanyin worship.

It follows the three other Buddhist shrines on the market trail. Emei Shan Tourism launched an IPO on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange in 1997, while Wutai and Jiuhua mountains are also seeking to raise funds on the stock market to boost their tourism potential.

Emei Shan did not include its temples in the listing and analysts expected the other three Buddhist mountain operators to follow suit.

But investment bankers said the tourism companies still wanted to trade on the religious aspect of their sites to lure investors and develop their local economies.

'There should be a limit on local governments developing their economies,' Liu was quoted by Xinhua as saying. 'Efforts [to do so] should not cross the moral line.'

Still reeling from stinging losses on their equity investments, mainland investors have been fuming over Beijing's easy approvals of IPOs draining away liquidity.

They say regulators have turned the IPO market into an ATM for companies hungry for capital - regardless of their quality or scope.

Thousands of mainlanders and animal rights activists voiced their concerns online in February last year after a bear-bile farm operator filed an application to list in Shenzhen. Gui Zhen Tang Pharmaceutical is still awaiting approval for the listing.

An official with the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) said it would consult the authorities about companies they supervise before reviewing listing applications.

The CSRC's approval for Shanghai Yaoji Playing Card to list in May last year also provoked uproar. The company is the world's largest maker of playing cards, which are often used for gambling in China.

Putuo Mountain reportedly plans to raise 750 million yuan (HK$307.1 million) from the IPO, but the official refused to comment on that figure.

Mainland media reported in 2009 that Shaolin Temple, considered the birthplace of kung fu, was planning an IPO, but local officials denied the reports after a chorus of protests.

'Regulators must be cautious when reviewing controversial IPO applications,' said Haitong Securities analyst Zhang Qi. 'Not all companies should be allowed to raise funds on the stock market.'