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Hong Kong Exchange points at record IPO pipeline after weak Q3 results

Hong Kong's stock exchange operator pointed at its swelling IPO pipeline after a crackdown across several sectors in mainland China slowed listings and hurt income in the third quarter.

Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Ltd., or HKEX, hosted 27 new listings in the three months ended Sept. 30, in which a total of HK$73.9 billion was raised, a 40% year-on-year drop. In the first half of 2021, a total of HK$212 billion was raised from 46 listings in Hong Kong.

Net profit in the third quarter fell 2.9% year on year to HK$3.25 billion, while revenue and other income remained flat at HK$5.31 billion.

IPOs have been affected by investors getting more cautious about macro market developments, "including issues around regulatory developments in China," CEO Nicolas Aguzin said. "At the same time, we have seen a buildup of the pipeline to the highest level that we've ever seen in terms of main board."

Around 200 companies are waiting in the wings to launch their IPOs in Hong Kong, including about 50 from the healthcare sector, Aguzin said on an Oct. 27 call.

Listings in the third quarter included those of Tesla Inc. rivals Li Auto Inc. and XPeng Inc. However, several other potential IPOs were put on hold, including by the music unit of Chinese gaming company NetEase Inc. and electric-vehicle maker NIO Inc., according to media reports.

Investor caution

China is mulling a plan to ban companies with significant amounts of sensitive consumer data from listing in the U.S., according to an Aug. 27 Wall Street Journal report.

"Investors remain uncertain about Hong Kong's future status as the main Asian capital market hub outside [mainland] China, as Chinese regulators have announced their aversion to US-listed tech IPOs," PwC said in a report. "This ambiguity will prevent a significant upswing, which is not expected until early 2022 at the earliest, as domestic issuers seek clear guidance on foreign listing regulations."

Aguzin said that "despite a turbulent macro backdrop ... revenue and profit reached record nine-month highs," driven by high cash market turnover, strong volumes via Stock Connect, a mutual market access program with mainland exchanges and a good IPO market.

Revenue from the Stock Connect program, which allows investors in the Hong Kong, Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges to trade securities in each other's markets via their home exchange, and other income reached a record nine-month high of HK$2.1 billion, up 55% year on year.

"Hong Kong markets remained resilient and robust, and the introduction of a range of new products ... ensure that HKEX remains very well placed to continue to play a vital role in global markets, poised and ready to capture future growth opportunities," Aguzin said.

The exchange operator Sept. 17 started a consultation for special purpose acquisition companies — skeleton organizations that launch an IPO with the intention of buying and reverse merging with a private company. The consultation will close Oct. 31.

A SPAC regime would help Hong Kong to maintain its status as a competitive international financial sector, said David Liu, Hong Kong-based managing director and head of Asia-Pacific for risk advisory firm Kroll's compliance risk and diligence practice.