China Capital Markets Research

It is highly unusual for there to be a global drought for Chinese IPOs, with tepid market activity in mainland China, Hong Kong and further offshore. Yet that is exactly the situation today. In the first six months of 2024, just 44 Chinese firms went public in the mainland, down 75% year-on-year, raising just US$4.48 billion. The situation was no better in Hong Kong and New York.

Chinese stocks have been struggling in recent years amid a prolonged economic slowdown, so it is no surprise to see regulators turning their attention to needed reforms in the Nasdaq-style Shanghai STAR Market. "We will go all out to promote high-quality development of China's capital market," Wu Qing, chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC), said in a speech at the annual Lujiazui Forum on June 19. "We will grow 'patient capital', and attract more long-term money into the market."

In August, the China Securities Regulatory Commission unveiled some potential modest market reforms to strengthen investor confidence and trading in Chinese capital markets. These measures included extension to trading hours for the country’s stock and bond markets, lower transaction fees for brokers and the encouragement of share buybacks. While these measures are welcome and could help boost China’s capital markets, there are underlying economic and political issues that need to be addressed if China’s stock market is to recover definitively.

It was not so long ago that Chinese companies often chose the United States’ capital markets when they sought to list overseas. U.S. stock exchanges offer Chinese companies unparalleled access to a pool of global investors, as well as the prestige that comes with being listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) or Nasdaq. In addition, being able to cash out in dollars is an attractive element of a U.S. listing. However, geopolitical tensions have made listing in the U.S. more challenging for Chinese companies, while Chinese regulators are tightening oversight of market debuts outside of China, and it is unclear if and when the situation will change.

In late August, the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) said that it would start a phased restriction on IPOs to boost "dynamic equilibrium" between investment and financing. The CSRC has not yet said how long the curbs will last, and market insiders foresee stricter IPO vetting and a longer registration process.

2022 is a tough act to follow for China’s IPO market. Last year, about 400 firms went public on China’s exchanges, raising a record RMB 560 billion (US$80.4 billion), an increase of 3% over 2021, according to PwC. Investor appetite was strong last year amid a resilient Chinese economy, tech firms continuing to emerge, and large red-chip companies listed overseas returning to mainland stock markets. While Chinese exchanges are unlikely to equal their stellar 2022 performance this year, they still have thus far raised five times as much as their U.S. counterparts.

To answer the question posed in the title, yes and no. Yes, Chinese sensor maker Hesai Group recently raised US$190 million in the largest U.S. IPO by a Chinese firm in 15 months, but it may have been a one-off event given investors are especially eager for exposure to the red-hot electric vehicle (EV) market. No, we do not think this yet portends a reversal of the slow deal pipeline for Chinese companies in U.S. capital markets. The underlying U.S.-China relationship remains too troubled for that kind of dramatic shift.

Is Europe the new New York for Chinese companies keen to raise capital overseas? Not exactly, as there is no exact replacement for the capital markets opportunities that the Nasdaq and NYSE once afforded Chinese firms. But given persistent tensions in the U.S.-China relationship, Chinese companies are opting for less liquid capital markets and less prestigious overseas listings – but without any of the geopolitical drama that has come to characterize their presence on U.S. exchanges. Switzerland’s SIX, meanwhile, is fast becoming the exchange of choice for Chinese companies wanting to raise capital outside of Greater China.

2022 was a year of mixed fortunes for China in many respects – but not in the case of its IPO market. Despite the trials and tribulations that the zero-Covid policy brought to China, listings on the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges hit a new high. Nearly 400 firms are estimated to have gone public on China’s exchanges in 2022, raising a record RMB 560 billion (US$80.4 billion), an increase of 3% over 2021, according to PwC.

Historically, Chinese companies seeking to go public overseas have listed in the United States, home to the world’s most liquid capital markets. Nothing can quite compare with listing on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) or Nasdaq. While that remains the case, the fraught U.S.-China relationship has caused Chinese firms to turn their focus to European stock exchanges, especially Switzerland’s SIX. In Europe, Chinese companies can mostly steer clear of geopolitical tensions while still being able to access global investors.

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