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HKEX chief executive Charles Li Xiaojia says consultation for the new third board will be launch at the end of May. The board aims to draw more technology companies and dual-class share firms to list in the city. Photo: SCMP

HKEX to begin consultation for a new third board end of May

HKEX will begin public consultation for a new third board at the end of the month. The board aims to draw more technology and new-economy firms to list in Hong Kong


Hong Kong is up for another round of market reform as the stock exchange will solicit views from the public at the end of the month for a new board to allow more technology firms like Alipay and Lufax, as well as foreign giant companies such as Saudi Aramco, to list here.

“The stock exchange is at the final stage of preparation in the details of this new board. We hope to have the consultation about launching this new board by the end of May,” said Charles Li Xiaojia, chief executive of Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing, which runs the stock and futures exchanges in Hong Kong.

Speaking at the sideline of the LME Week Asia forum on Wednesday, Li said they were keen to have a bigger variety of companies to list here, including Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest IPO that is expected to raise US$100 billion, in a 5 per cent stake sale of the oil giant valued at US$2 trillion. Hong Kong is in the running for the listing, but is facing competition from London and New York.

The new market which brokers call the third board, will be the third market in Hong Kong after the Main Board and the Growth Enterprise Market.

Li said in January that the new board would have different listing rules from the other two markets to allow more foreign firms, infrastructure firms, overseas companies on the “Belt and Road Initiative”, technology or new-economy companies, and firms that want to be listed in a dual-class shareholding structure, to list.

“It would be a good idea for the HKEX to launch a new board to attract more technology firms to list. Hong Kong has many big banks and financial giants to list, but we have too few technology companies listings here,” said Christopher Cheung Wah-fung, a lawmaker who represents the financial services sector, and is himself a stockbroker.

“A new third board would allow the exchange to introduce a whole new set of listing rules, which could be more flexible listing requirements tailoring to the needs of technology and new-economy firms. This would be better than changing the rules for the main board and the GEM,” Cheung said.

Cheung however, said the consultation needed to also offer suggestions to safeguard the interests of investors.

“We also want the HKEX to have good communication with the Securities and Futures Commission, for the regulator to support the reform. We do not want to repeat the chaos two years ago when the stock exchange proposed rule change on dual shareholding structure, and the plan was rejected by the SFC immediately,” he said.

A new third board would allow the exchange to introduce a whole new set of listing rules, which could be more flexible listing requirements tailoring to the needs of technology and new-economy firms
Christopher Cheung Wah-fung

Many new-economy companies such as Facebook and Google trade their shares with a dual-share structure as their founders tend to hold on to a minority stake but want to retain control. Dual-share structures allow certain shareholders to have more voting rights than others.

Mainland e-commerce giant Alibaba opted to list in New York over Hong Kong in 2014, as the SFC considers its shareholding structure to be a dual-class shareholding that is banned in Hong Kong but allowed in the US. Alibaba chairman Jack Ma has called Hong Kong listing rules outdated, that they do not meet the needs of new-economy companies. Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.

Brokers said Alipay – payment arm of a unit of Alibaba – and Lufax, an internet finance arm of Ping An Insurance are both considering to list to raise funds.

The stock exchange two years ago tabled the proposal to allow dual-class shareholding companies to list in Hong Kong, but the SFC rejected the plan a week later.

This time would be different as the SFC chairman Carlson Tong Ka-shing last month said the commission had agreed to a consultation on the third board, including the dual-class share proposal. The change in attitude was because the type of listings would be limited to the new board, while the previous proposal applied to the entire market.

Nonetheless, HKEX would face an uphill battle to convince all stakeholders to accept the dual-class shareholding structure. Many fund mangers such as Aberdeen Asset Management and Franklin Templeton are opposed to it as they consider the structure unfair to all investors.

“It would be good to have a new market in Hong Kong to attract different types of companies to list here. But as usual, devil is in the details. We need to see if the HKEX proposals are flexible enough to attract new technology companies to list here, while at the same time, that there is sufficient investor protection,” said Joseph Tong Tang, chairman of Morton Securities.

Hong Kong Stockbrokers Association chairman Benny Mau said if the HKEX would propose a third board, it would need to clearly define how the role and listing requirements are different from those for the main board and the GEM.

“The consultation paper should also consult the market if all investors could invest in this new board or if it should be for institutional investors to trade only,” Mau said.

The article has been amended to correct the name of Franklin Templeton in the 15th paragraph

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: new third board plans gather momentum in city