Asia Capital Markets Research

September 16 2021

Can SPACs vivify SGX?

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It has been a banner year for firms going public in Asia, with the IPO market booming from Hong Kong to Seoul to Mumbai. The same cannot be said for SGX, which has been much quieter. Thus far this year, the exchange has seen just three IPOs. As always, limited liquidity and sub-par valuations are problems. Something needs to be done to turn things around.

Kakao Bank has been South Korea’s top digital lender, both in terms of users and profitability, for several years. Following a blockbuster US$2.2 billion IPO in which its shares surged more than 79%, it is now also the most valuable publicly-listed South Korean financial firm, with a market capitalization of 32 trillion won (US$28 billion), compared to KB Financial Group Inc. (22 trillion won)  Shinhan Financial Group Co. (20 trillion won) and Hana Financial Group Inc. (13 trillion won).

Chinese companies raised more than US$12 billion in U.S. markets in the first half of 2021, a half-year record, according to Dealogic. The great U.S.-China financial decoupling had seemingly hit a snag. Then came Didi Chuxing's catastrophic debut on the NYSE, and just like that, the U.S. IPO pipeline for Chinese firms froze. But the companies have to list somewhere offshore and Hong Kong will likely step in to fill the void.

Indonesia’s tech juggernauts are coming into their own this year. First Gojek and Tokopedia merged to create GoTo, which plans to list in both the U.S. and Indonesia. Now Tokopedia’s rival Bukalapak has announced its own plans to go public on the Indonesia Stock Exchange in what looks to be the archipelago nation’s largest ever IPO. Bukalapak recently said that it would increase its IPO size to US$1.5 billion.

Two IPOs are better than one, as far as Kakao is concerned. The banking and payments arms of Korea’s super app are both preparing to go public in Korea in August. Kakao Pay, South Korea’s largest payments provider, which has 36 million users and is backed by Ant Group, plans to raise up to 1.6 trillion won ($1.4 billion). Kakao Bank, South Korea’s largest online lender, could raise up to 2.55 trillion won.

Perhaps there was nowhere for Hong Kong’s IPO market to go but down. From January-March, fundraising hit an all-time high of US$13.9 billion while Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEX) posted a record profit of HK$3.8 billion (US$490 million), up 70% year-on-year. At that point, China’s fintech crackdown, which has widened to target tech giants in general, had yet to impact market sentiment.

China’s fintech crackdown is hurting some of the country’s largest tech firms, but has yet to dampen investor appetite for Chinese tech listings in Hong Kong. In fact, Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEX) posted a record profit of HK$3.8 billion (US$490 million) in the January-March period, up 70% year-on-year. Driving the boom were listings by Chinese tech firms of various stripes, including video-streaming platform Kuaishou (which raised US$5 billion) as well as secondary listings by search giant Baidu and video-sharing platform Bilibili. The first quarter is normally the slowest for Hong Kong IPOs as it coincides with the Lunar New Year holiday. 

Ride-hailing giant Grab is full of surprises these days. It was not so long ago that the Singaporean decacorn was said to be considering a tie-up with its rival Gojek. Gojek instead is moving to merge with e-commerce giant Tokopedia while Grab is taking the SPAC merger road to an exit. The forthcoming Nasdaq SPAC could value Grab at up to US$40 billion, but it is not the only listing the company is considering. Indeed, Grab is also considering a secondary listing on the Singapore Exchange (SGX).

It has not been the best six months for Ant Group. The erstwhile high-flying fintech giant landed squarely in regulatory crosshairs on the eve of its abortive IPO and has been there ever since. Initial optimism that the company could expeditiously get its regulatory house in order have been dashed as Beijing’s demands increase. Not only must Ant vastly increase its capitalization, which will eat deep into its profit margins, the company must also restructure and hand over its precious user data to a state-run firm. Ant's valuation could fall as low as US$29 billion, a far cry from the US$315 billion price tag that the company had around the time of its abortive IPO. These changes will have a profound impact on Ant’s future prospects and likely other major fintechs in its ecosystem as well. 

Buy now, pay later may be the greatest thing for payments since well, credit cards, or even better, depending whom you ask. “What we’re seeing now is a once-in-a-lifetime generational shift away from traditional credit products,” Afterpay CEO and co-founder Anthony Eisen recently told The Australian. While the concept of zero-interest installment payments is not exactly revolutionary, Afterpay is one of the fintechs that has figured out how to package it right. As a result, Afterpay is not only one of the biggest BNPL firms in Australia but also the US. In March, Afterpay surpassed AU$1 billion in monthly sales in the US. With the US increasingly driving Afterpay’s growth, the company is considering an IPO on the Nasdaq. 

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