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Cornerstone investors surge for HK IPOs

Aug 29th, 2016        Source: FTChinese
Cornerstone investors have accounted for almost half of new listings in Hong Kong this year — a record level that bankers fear is distorting prices and undermining the credibility of one of the world’s leading equity capital centres.

The investors, who accept six-month lock-ups in return for large allocations, have taken 46 per cent of the $9.7bn equity on offer through initial public offerings so far this year, according to Dealogic.That ratio is set to rise above 50 per cent for the first time with the $8bn float next month of Postal Savings Bank of China, the world’s biggest IPO for 2016 to date.

Between 60 per cent and 80 per cent of the offering is expected to be allocated to cornerstones by the time the deal launches.

Hong Kong’s increasing reliance on cornerstones, which began as a way of using marquee name investors to generate interest in new listings, has increasingly morphed into a form of reducing risk that a deal fails, bankers say.

The practice became more common after the $22bn float in 2010 of Agricultural Bank of China, then the world’s biggest.

The deal, which launched in rocky markets, was buoyed by $5.5bn of cornerstones but the overall amount of equity locked up that year totalled just 15 per cent.

Last year two-fifths of the IPO equity on offer in Hong Kong went to cornerstones. Strip tied-up funds out of this year’s deals to date, and the Hong Kong Exchange drops from first place to fourth in terms of capital raising, behind New York Stock Exchange, Shanghai Stock Exchange and Nasdaq.

In June, CDB Leasing set a new record for Hong Kong with 78 per cent of its $810m float going to cornerstones, leaving the 13 banks on the deal to find just $182m of investment.

Everbright Securities, which listed this month in a $1.1bn deal, is second with 67 per cent

“We all know that sometimes, especially if it’s an SOE [state-owned enterprise], getting the deal done can be more important than how it gets done,” said one equity head for an international bank. “I don’t think that having 70 per cent-plus cornerstone tranches is really healthy for the market.”

Bankers are not prepared to comment publicly because IPOs are a large part of their business.

Chinese deals, particularly the floats of SOEs, have been one of the biggest and steadiest sources of revenue in the region.

While equity capital markets make up about a quarter of the fee pool globally for investment banks, it accounts for two-fifths in Asia where cut-throat competition has reduced fees to a fraction of those generated on US IPOs.

One equity trading head described a lot of the recent floats as “almost dormant” in the secondary market as a result of cornerstone holdings.

“Structurally it is a problem for Hong Kong and it has been that way for a while with these club deals,” he added.

The lack of liquidity created by the large lock-ups has subdued trading in the stocks while also creating an overhang on potential gains, bankers said.

None of Hong Kong’s six IPOs this year of more than $500m have registered a first-day gain. In New York, meanwhile, only two of its seven equivalent deals fell on launch with the smallest gain on the others being 5 per cent.

In 2015, a review by the Hong Kong Exchange’s Listing Committee, which vets all IPOs, concluded that it was not clear that cornerstones narrowed the shareholder base or reduced liquidity.

“The committee decided that no additional regulation is warranted at this stage but nonetheless the exchange will continue to monitor developments in this area,” the exchange said.