Chinese IPOs give Hong Kong a boost after a troubled year

Hong Kong’s stock exchange was dealt a major blow last month when Ant Group’s highly anticipated IPO was shelved. But the city is still likely to end the year as one of the world’s top markets for public offerings thanks to Chinese companies raising cash.

The Asian financial hub has hosted more than 120 new listings so far this year, according to data compiled by Dealogic. The research firm said those listings have raised a combined $47 billion through Tuesday, the third highest tally in the world behind the New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq. It’s also a 17% jump when compared to the entirety of 2019.

The latest winner in Hong Kong’s hot streak is JD Health, an online healthcare unit owned by Chinese e-commerce firm JD.com (JD). The company’s shares popped 56% on the first day of trading Tuesday. The firm has raised at least $3.5 billion, making it the city’s largest initial public offering this year.

The market success is good news for Hong Kong, which has otherwise been dealing with growing doubts about its future as a global business hub as China tightens its control on the city.

The city’s image was hurt last year by months of pro-democracy protests. This year, in addition to Covid-19, business confidence was shaken when Beijing imposed a controversial national security law on Hong Kong that critics warned will undermine the democratic freedoms long enjoyed by residents. The Chinese government’s grip on Hong Kong is also a concern for businesses, which have established operations in the city largely because of how open the city is to foreign investment and its independent legal system.

Hong Kong financial secretary Paul Chan acknowledged this week that international investors have been worried about the city’s future. But he also said that the government has been working to shore up confidence in the city, and intends to work with regulators to promote Hong Kong to international investors.

Overall, “foreign investor confidence has maintained well in Hong Kong,” Chan said Monday during a legislative meeting. He added that the city’s status as a financial hub is “as stable as Mount Tai” referencing one of China’s most famous mountains.

Chan added that the city has recorded a net inflow of nearly $50 billion in capital since April.

Analysts at the French bank Natixis pointed out in a recent research note that much of that money is because of “the large push for IPOs from mainland Chinese companies.”

There have been a flurry of Chinese public offerings this year, particularly among those that already trade overseas but want stronger roots closer to home. Many Chinese companies that trade on Wall Street, including Alibaba (BABA), NetEase (NTES) and JD.com, have held secondary offerings in Hong Kong as tensions between Washington and Beijing rise.

Both NetEase and JD.com, for example, made clear in filings earlier this year that they think the United States is becoming more hostile toward Chinese companies as regulators and lawmakers consider new rules that would lead to stricter oversight.

Those concerns appear to be coming to pass. Last week, the US House of Representatives passed a bill that would prevent companies that refuse to open their books to US accounting regulators from trading on US stock exchanges. The legislation won unanimous backing in the Senate earlier this year, meaning it only needs President Donald Trump’s signature to become law.

Hong Kong, meanwhile, has been making changes that could attract more Chinese tech firms. Hang Seng Indexes, the city’s leading index compiler, launched a Nasdaq-like technology index to track the largest tech firms that trade in the city.

The index compiler also changed rules in May to allow companies that have chosen Hong Kong for their secondary listing to appear on the city’s benchmark Hang Seng Index — a decision that paved the way for the index to add Alibaba and Xiaomi as constituents in September.

But there are still risks lying ahead for Hong Kong.

Société Générale analysts noted this week that Chinese stocks are facing significant headwinds because of US sanctions on their businesses that could cut them off from key technology or otherwise curtail investment.

For example, Chinese chipmaker SMIC (SMICY), which trades in Hong Kong and Shanghai, was added last week to a US Defense Department list that bans Americans from investing in it.