Several Chinese companies are rethinking fundraising plans in Hong Kong as anti-government protests rock the territory, an ominous sign for its future as a financial gateway between Asia’s largest economy and the rest of the world.
One company scrapped preliminary preparations for a US$500 million initial public offering (IPO) in Hong Kong partly because of the unrest and is instead to pursue a US listing, said a senior banker on the deal, who asked not to be named discussing private information.
Another banker said that at least two companies were considering the same move for IPOs worth a combined US$1 billion, adding that final decisions would depend on market conditions and whether the turmoil in Hong Kong eases.
While the deals amount to a small portion of the money raised by Chinese businesses in Hong Kong in recent years, they bode ill for the territory’s status as one of the world’s premier financial hubs.
The two senior bankers said that Chinese clients were worried about more than just this week’s shutdown of Hong Kong International Airport and other logistical headaches caused by the protests; they were also questioning whether the territory will remain a stable place to do business over the long term.
“The social and political instability has had an impact on people’s perceptions,” said David Cho (趙載經), a partner at Hong Kong-based law firm Dechert LLP. “The pipeline isn’t looking strong for the remainder of the year, and things could get even worse if China decides to crack down more forcefully in Hong Kong.”
Hong Kong’s benchmark Hang Seng Index has tumbled 12 percent over the past three weeks as clashes between protesters and police turned increasingly violent, raising fears that the Chinese military might intervene to restore order.
The stakes could hardly be higher for Hong Kong, whose economy is highly dependent on the financial industry. Chinese firms accounted for US$9 billion of the US$11 billion raised via IPOs this year, as well as about 80 percent of bond sales in the territory, data compiled by Bloomberg showed.
Even so, few expect China Inc to abandon Hong Kong’s financial system en masse. US markets are seen as a more stable, but their appeal to Chinese issuers has also diminished somewhat in recent months as the trade dispute soured relations between the two nations.
One closely watched test of Hong Kong’s appeal is Alibaba Group Holding Ltd’s (阿里巴巴) proposed mega-listing in the territory.
The e-commerce giant has filed a listing application for a share sale that might raise as much as US$20 billion, people familiar with the matter said in June, but the company has stayed quiet about its intentions since the protests escalated.
Even if the Alibaba deal proceeds as planned, there is little doubt that Chinese executives have become more wary of Hong Kong. In addition to those rethinking IPOs, several are canceling or postponing meetings with investors in the territory to avoid the risk of getting caught up in protest-related violence or travel disruptions, bankers said.
Hong Kong’s turmoil has affected the financial industry in other ways. BlackRock Inc, the world’s largest asset manager, postponed its Asia Media Forum scheduled for next month to February next year, a company spokeswoman said on Wednesday, so that “as many partners as possible” would be able to join.