Full IPO pipeline this year promises fat fees for Hong Kong bankers

IPO proceeds forecast to more than double to US$32 billion, boosting fees for advisers

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 January, 2014, 11:33am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 January, 2014, 4:42am

After three lean years, bankers are looking forward to a surge in fees as Hong Kong regains its swagger with a slew of big-money initial public offerings.

With the value of initial share sales seen doubling to more than US$32 billion this year as major economies pick up steam, China could account for more than half of all investment banking fees for the Asia-Pacific region, excluding Japan.

An upsurge in debt offerings and a cautious restart for initial share shares on the mainland will also fuel a rise in first-half revenue at investment banks.

Since 2009 and 2010, when a bumper crop of deals helped Hong Kong overtake New York as the world's biggest listing market, banks have seen equity issuance and fees shrivel.

Power Assets is leading this year's pack of mega deals with the planned sale of up to US$3.6 billion of shares in an electricity business later this month. Handling the sale and booking most fees from it will be Goldman Sachs and HSBC.

While last year was depressed in terms of share offerings, China still accounted for 49 per cent of investment banking fees in the Asia-Pacific region, excluding Japan, according to Thomson Reuters/Freeman Consulting estimates.

About 36 per cent of the US$9.86 billion in fees came from equity deals.

Advisory firm PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates Hong Kong offerings could raise US$32.2 billion this year, the highest since 2010 and nearly double last year's tally of US$17.1 billion. That would make this year the fourth-biggest on record for new listings in the city, Thomson Reuters data shows.

With economic activity improving in the United States, Japan and some countries in Europe, risk appetite and demand for new share offerings was expected to grow, benefiting Hong Kong and mainland Chinese listings, analysts said.

"Sentiment will be good for IPOs this year," said Jasper Chan, a corporate finance officer at Phillip Securities, which provides margin loans to retail investors looking to buy into new issues.

"You can see … how deals are oversubscribed sometimes more than 1,000 times. You can see how hot the IPO market is now."

Deals expected this year include a US$5 billion listing from mainland meat processor Shuanghui International and offerings from health and beauty products retailer AS Watson and e-commerce giant Alibaba.

Shuanghui's deal is expected for the first half of the year.

An Alibaba float of about US$15 billion could take place in the second half at the earliest, with Hong Kong considered a possible location.

Goldman and HSBC are handling the Watson listing and other stock sales as well as the Power Assets deal.

Other banks likely to benefit from the surge include Morgan Stanley, which is handling the Shuanghui deal with Citic Securities and UBS. Citic should also benefit from its position as the top underwriter of new listings on the mainland.

While the deal pipeline is full, Power Assets' decision to cut its targeted proceeds by about a third provided evidence that share offerings will still need to be pitched accurately. The move reflected a lower valuation on the asset being sold, and also a decision by the parent firm to retain a bigger slice of the business.

"It is still a buyers' market. Investors will continue to be choosy," said Philippe Espinasse, a former equity capital markets banker at UBS and at Nomura.

"Issuers will need to be realistic on valuations and, importantly, will need to get support from cornerstones to get deals done."

Bankers typically secure groups of institutional investors to commit to deals, acting as their cornerstone investors.

The gradual, bumpy resumption of share offerings in Shanghai and Shenzhen will also ultimately provide a boost to deal volumes in the Asia-Pacific region after zero activity for more than a year on the mainland.

Mainland companies could raise 250 billion yuan (HK$321 billion) from new listings on the Shenzhen and Shanghai exchanges this year, according to a PwC forecast. That level would make it the second-biggest year on record for initial share sales on the mainland, although the early days of the restart have been troubled.

The first batch of about 50 companies to list on the mainland this month alone should bring in 44 billion yuan in proceeds, consulting firm EY estimated.