IPO hopeful's business is built on a dead certainty: hundreds of millions of Chinese will die one day

Ageing society boosts appeal of Fu Shou Yuan for HK pitch, bankers say

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 December, 2013, 1:57pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 December, 2013, 3:59am

Before Santa Claus visits Hong Kong this Christmas, a mainland firm in the “death care” business aims to go public in the city, offering investors the gift of a rare opportunity to make some quick cash, bankers say.

Shanghai-based Fu Shou Yuan International, the largest provider of death care services on the mainland by revenue and geographical coverage, plans to launch a roadshow next week for its initial public offering of shares to raise up to US$250 million on the Hong Kong stock exchange.

If successful, Fu Shou Yuan, which offers tombs, funerals and other death-related ceremonial services on the mainland, would be the first mainland-based provider to list in the city.

“I know some investors may not like this kind of business if they are superstitious, believe in feng shui or something like that,” said one of the bankers familiar with the deal.

“But a good business is a good business, and you can also consider Fu Shou Yuan as just a different kind of real estate company to some extent,” he said.

Indeed, the battle for burial plots in Shanghai entered a tumultuous new phase this year. Prices soared to the sky as the city faced the need to allocate more space for the dead.

A tomb site of less than one square metre in Shanghai now costs about 50,000 yuan (HK$63,200) – more than double the average 22,500 yuan per square metre paid for a home in the city at the end of last year.

Fu Shou Yuan, established in Shanghai in 1994, has service centres in eight cities and provinces, with more than 20 subsidiaries that provide death-related services.

... a good business is a good business, and you can also consider Fu Shou Yuan as just a different kind of real estate company
A banker familiar with the IPO plans

Leading political figures such as Wang Daohan, former president of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait and former Shanghai mayor, and Zhang Shizhao, a former senior government official in the Nationalist and Communist governments around the time of the civil war on the mainland that ended in 1949, were buried in cemeteries operated by Fu Shou Yuan.

Citigroup is the sole sponsor for this IPO, and more banks may assist it later, bankers say.

Fu Shou Yuan plans to sell 500 million shares, accounting for 25 per cent of its enlarged capital.

Citi is helping the firm to do the “investor education” pre-marketing events this week in Hong Kong before its official roadshow next week.

Although pricing for the IPO will not be fixed until December 13, according to a term sheet seen by the South China Morning Post, the initial response from investors has proved to be “warm and active”, bankers say.

One reason institutional investors like the IPO and retail investors may have a good chance to make quick profits by selling their shares after the listing is that China is becoming a fast ageing society – a story the company and its bankers are emphasising to potential investors.

No country is ageing as quickly as China. Today, 14.8 per cent of the population is over 60 years of age, but that figure will rise to more than 33 per cent if trends continue. That poses a host of problems, among them a shrinking labour force and ballooning costs for health care and retirement benefits.

However, to death care specialists like Fu Shou Yuan, the more people die, the bigger the market for their services.