Hong Kong official backs market regulator in Alibaba listing row

Government voices support for regulator in rejecting listing of mainland e-commerce giant and says no need to strip HKEx of vetting role

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 October, 2013, 4:01am

The government yesterday came out in support of the Securities and Futures Commission's stance in the controversy over Alibaba's listing plans and rejected calls to strip the stock exchange of its power to approve listings.

"The stock exchange has no plans to consult the market about any change in listing rules. The Hong Kong listing approval structure and listing rules work fine," Chan Ka-keung, the secretary for financial services and the treasury, said at a Legislative Council meeting.

Under the law, the chief executive can issue directives to the SFC, meaning the government has the final say on any listing issue, but it has never exercised this power.

The mainland e-commerce giant lobbied the SFC and the stock exchange last month to be allowed to have a partnership structure that would have let its top executives nominate the majority of board members. The regulators refused to budge, saying there was no provision in listing rules that allowed preferential treatment of one group of shareholders over another. Alibaba has since reportedly been looking at listing in the US.

Legislator Charles Mok, who represents the information technology sector, asked the government if new policies were being considered to attract technology firms to list in the city.

The Hong Kong listing approval structure and listing rules work fine

In an attack on regulators following the rebuff, Alibaba vice-chairman Joe Tsai said last month: "Hong Kong must consider what is needed in order to adapt to future trends and changes" and "look forward as the rest of the world passes it by".

Chan rejected allegations that Hong Kong was lagging behind and said that a number of "high quality" technology firms had listed in the city. "Hong Kong is not the only market worldwide to ban dual-class share structures … Most markets ban such structures," he said.

"The US is the only market that allows the dual-class share structure. The US regulator, the SEC, in the 1980s appealed to the courts to ban such structures. The court ruled the issue would have to be determined by state law. The US has a different system from Hong Kong."

Christopher Cheung Wah-fung, the legislator representing the financial services sector, asked Chan to consider stripping Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing of its power to approve listings, saying there was a conflict of interest between its obligation to shareholders and its role as a regulator.

"We have seen many mainland companies facing problems shortly after listing here. The government should consider taking away the HKEx's regulatory role," Cheung said.

Chan said that was unnecessary because the SFC had been monitoring the exchange's approval of listing applications.

While the stock exchange had officially said "no" to Alibaba's proposal, Cheung said there was concern that it had worked with Alibaba behind the scenes to find a way out of the impasse before it had finally agreed to the SFC's stance against any relaxation of the rules.