Listing regime in Hong Kong under review
Study by the government advisory body aims to assess the city's global competitiveness and seek ways to enhance the IPO framework
The government's top financial advisory body has begun a review of the city's stock listing regime, Financial Services Development Council member Joe Ngai told the South China Morning Post.
The McKinsey managing partner said the review was designed to assess the city's global competitiveness and was not a response to Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing's loss of Alibaba's potential US$15 billion initial public offering following the controversy over the dual shareholding structure that the e-commerce giant had sought.
"The study aims to look into the weaknesses of the Hong Kong IPO market and seek ways to enhance the framework, including ways to attract a greater variety of companies and from a wider range of countries," Ngai said.
Alibaba last month failed to convince Hong Kong regulators to waive rules and allow a unique partnership structure that would have given its founders and senior executives, who own about 10 per cent of the company, the power to nominate most of the board members.
The Securities and Futures Commission had argued that such an arrangement would compromise the "one-share, one-vote" principle, but HKEx chief executive Charles Li Xiaojia is understood to be open to considering non-standard shareholding structures for "innovative companies".
Ngai said the council's study would go beyond shareholding structures and would like to find solutions for other issues as well. There is no timetable for the report.
"The stock market relies heavily on mainland enterprises to list here. About 59 per cent of the IPOs in recent years are from China, while mainland firms represent 70 per cent of the turnover. There are only a handful of companies from countries like Italy, Russia or others," he said.
"We would like to see more firms from other countries such as Japan or South Korea list here to make Hong Kong a real international market."
The study would also look into whether Hong Kong was overly retail-oriented in its regulatory mindset and other corporate governance issues, Ngai said.
Another committee member, lawyer Laurence Li, said the review would touch on other technical problems such as Hong Kong's continued use of paper-based prospectus and documentation.
"This means Hong Kong IPOs need more manual procedures and more manpower. Many advanced markets have gone all-electronic," Li said.
The listing date for a Hong Kong flotation comes five days after the price is fixed. In the United States, many such offers could list on the same day the price was fixed, he said.
The council was set up in January and is chaired by Executive Councillor Laura Cha with the city's business leaders on the committee. It is aimed at seeking ways to improve the city's financial markets.
On Monday, it released its first batch of six reports on ways to improve the city's yuan business, the fund management industry and the real estate investment trust market.
"A major problem is that we have a very strong stock market, but the local foreign exchange and debt markets lag those in the US, Britain and Singapore. Commodities trading is not active here either," Ngai said.
"More should be done on the comprehensive development of the foreign exchange, commodities and debt markets. The internationalisation of the yuan would provide opportunities for Hong Kong to diversify from just being an active stock market.
"Yuan trading and yuan bond issuance have helped promote the city's foreign exchange and dim sum bond markets in past years."