Mainland banks are reviving their listing plans to raise money in Hong Kong this year as Beijing continues to keep an indirect hold on onshore initial public offerings.
Banks face growing problems raising money on the mainland, partly because the securities regulator has held off on domestic listing approvals over the past few months. But market watchers say that even in Hong Kong it will not be easy for the capital-hungry lenders to convince investors to buy their shares, given they are not likely to be offered cheaply.
Of the banks that are readying for a Hong Kong listing, Beijing-based, Shanghai-listed China Everbright Bank is likely to be the first off the rank. The bank is no stranger to Hong Kong, having failed at least four times - due to the weak market - to list in the city. Some investors were also concerned about the medium-sized, state-owned bank's asset quality, analysts said.
Everbright Bank aims to raise between US$1.5 billion and US$2 billion in the second quarter, and its float could quickly follow two other major non-banking offerings - one by Sinopec Engineering and the other by China Galaxy Securities.
"Everbright Bank is very hopeful of getting listed this time but there is no guarantee," said a banker who has followed the lender's on-and-off listing plans over the past few years. "The problem is that despite the bad market conditions Everbright Bank's top bosses don't want to cut the share price [for the Hong Kong float] and they want to get most of the shares covered by cornerstone investors to make sure they don't lose face again."
The bank's leadership, including chairman Tang Shuangning, a former regulator, told listing sponsors that they must try to find cornerstone investors to take 60 per cent or even 70 per cent of the offering before the book was open to the public.
In better market times, cornerstone investors would have been expected to take up just 20 per cent of an offering. When the underwriters fail to line up such investors, they may have to take up some of the shares to enable the offering to go through.
The price-to-tangible-book value of Hong Kong-listed banks has improved significantly to an average of 1.3 times following a more than 20 per cent surge in their share prices since September last year, even though there has been a recent correction in the industry and weakness in the market. Other listing candidates face the same challenge and are closely monitoring Everbright's progress.
Other banks in the long Hong Kong listing queue this year include China Guangfa Bank, a Guangdong-based lender partly owned by Citigroup; Bank of Shanghai; Bank of Chongqing and several other small lenders from third or even fourth-tier mainland cities.
Guangfa aims to launch its US$5 billion dual-listing in Shanghai and Hong Kong late this year. Bank of Shanghai, 8 per cent owned by HSBC, is preparing its potential US$2 billion float. Bank of Chongqing, which expects to raise about US$500 million, might have to wait until Guangfa and Bank of Shanghai to list first, industry sources said.