In a year that saw regional markets tumble and persistent attacks on the Hong Kong dollar, many companies were forced to hold off plans for raising funds in equity capital markets. Still, nearly 30 companies launched initial public offerings (IPOs). But compared to the year before, which saw an oversubscription of 1,276 times for Beijing Enterprises' listing, it was painfully quiet. 'You can't try to support a particular company when you face a complete market meltdown,' a corporate finance chief said in explaining the few issues. He said the Government's intervention in the market in August only added to uncertainty as 'liquidity has declined, funds have fallen and the risk premium associated with Hong Kong and the region has gone up'. Earlier in the year, many analysts looked to the mainland - one of the few economies in the region that is expanding - to revive Hong Kong's dried-up IPO market. They expected the scores of mainland companies queued for overseas listings would start to get some of those issues out the door in the fourth quarter. It never happened. Only one sizeable mainland deal was done this year - for H-firm Yanzhou Coal Mining - and it underperformed its sector after listing. 'Most people see declining economies, poor earnings and little growth,' said Richard Taylor, Credit Lyonnais Securities' head of investment banking. 'There is still selective interest around for special situations from the specialist funds, as Asia looks to have better value than America and East Europe. 'The problem is they don't have much money.' The number of companies listing on Hong Kong's stock exchange this year is about a third of the 82 companies which listed in 1997. The shortage was due as much to a lack of interest from companies as it was to investor reluctance. Just as leading investment bank Goldman Sachs put off its IPO on Wall Street after global banking stocks plummeted in the wake of the rouble devaluation, so mainland and Hong Kong companies did not want to offer stock with prices so depressed. At one point, some brokers began calling for the Mass Transit Railway Corp (MTRC), a semi-sovereign company, to list publicly in order to revive the beleaguered IPO market - not to mention fatten up the market capitilisation of the Hang Seng Index. The MTRC continued, however, to raise money its traditional way - through issuing notes or borrowing from abroad. This year's issues mostly have been small and retail-oriented companies. Most of them have underperformed an already battered market. Eel-food maker Corasia Group, for instance, which was listed in July, dived 40.35 per cent in its first week of trading. One of the biggest successes was Peaktop International, which rose 81.88 per cent between its listing in early January and its peak in mid-May. In general, industrial companies had better luck raising funds than other sectors. The sector outperformed others because the United States-oriented exporters benefited from falling regional currencies, which lowered input costs. About a quarter of listed companies this year were industrials. Altogether, $81.65 billion was raised in public share offerings last year, against less than $13 billion so far this year. 'These small issues aren't going to keep the wolf from the door in terms of the industry as a whole,' an investment banker said. And he said the future held less hope for getting even the smaller issues out as the largely poor performance of this year's listings would make it increasingly difficult to convince brokerages to try to distribute such IPOs. 'In the past you would distribute such issues in return for getting a piece of the next big issue coming down the line,' he said. 'But those big issues just aren't coming . . . so it's going to get harder and harder to encourage brokerages to distribute these little deals, because they see no reward.' Listed companies also found they had a tough time turning to shareholders for top-ups. In the spring, shareholders voted down a rights issue by Oriental Press - the company ended up selling property in Britain to raise funds. Others resorted to passing out shares like booby prizes in order to raise additional funds. In June, watch-maker Egana International offered a combination rights issue and spin-off in which shareholders could buy two new shares for every five owned. In addition, for every two shares bought shareholders were given five bonus shares as well as two bonus shares in the spin-off, Egana Jewellery. Directors also bought up new shares worth $182 million at the same time to give the company a much-needed cash injection. 'This is a unique deal,' director Peter Lee Ka-yue said at the time. 'We are offering the shares at a discount and then adding three more ingredients: the immediate bonus issue of the parent company and the bonus share for the spin-off, and then we are going to contribute $182 million of our funds.' It worked. The issue was 1.26 times oversubscribed - but it's a hard way to make a living.