In China initial public offerings are a bit like London buses – you wait 14 months, and then 50 come along at once.
On Friday the first new listed company since November 2012 – Neway Valve – made its trading debut in Shanghai. The stock rose more than 40 per cent, an encouraging sign for the hundreds of other new listings expected through the year.
The path to reopening the market has been a little bumpy, exacerbated by a vow to block overpriced deals coming to market that was one of the key reforms announced by the China Securities Regulatory Commission ahead of the IPO restart.
Five companies withdrew their applications last week after the regulator reminded the market it was still willing to intervene if it saw deals being done at what it deemed excessive prices.
One company chose to throw out almost half of investor orders because they came in too high, while another decided to postpone its IPO because it was poised to achieve a much higher valuation than its listed peers.
Two more withdrew after complaints from investors about poor public disclosure. Listing rules brought in late last year have lessened the weight of the hand of the state, but not removed it.
Most expect the regulator’s influence to remain strong. One banker said that, if left unchecked, the revived Chinese IPO market risked becoming akin to the “wild west”, as companies and underwriters looked to cash in at the expense of poorly protected retail investors. Others expect the authorities to quickly stamp out any signs of misconduct – what has been called “loophole whack-a-mole”.
“Any reform process in China is not going to be smooth,” says Steven Sun, head of China equity strategy at HSBC. “The whole ecosystem needs to see some change before we can come to the conclusion that the new IPO reform is successful.”
In spite of opening night nerves, those that do list look set for a largely positive reception. Although the biggest deal to come this month is for a provincial coal producer – Shaanxi Coal will now raise just $600m from an earlier plan of $3bn – investors have been clamouring to get into listings seen as part of China’s new economy.
Joseph Chee, head of global capital markets for China at UBS, says the return of IPOs will ultimately prove “a good thing for investors”.
“You look at the kind of companies that are getting listed – most of them are small-cap, mid-cap, high-performing companies in media, in telecoms, in healthcare,” he says. “It’s the vibrant parts of China. It’s the kind of companies that will thrive as China is maturing.”
For investors the main issue is how to approach the market. For stockpickers fresh companies offer new ideas and opportunities to beat benchmarks.
However, for index trackers the new listings, and their resultant drain on liquidity, could spell trouble.
Some of the niggling concerns that a rush of listings would further damp sentiment in the market appear to have been justified.
Since the start of the year, the Shanghai index has fallen more than 5 per cent and is trading near six-month lows. Analysts say it could take up to a year for the IPO-driven turbulence to die down.
“If you look at the actual size of the issuance, it’s not that big relative to trading volumes. What is hurting sentiment is the frequency. It’s like someone who has been in bed sick for a year, and you are asking him to get up and run a marathon,” says Mr Sun.
But with most global investors focused on large, dual-listed stocks, or on well-established smaller companies, the direct effect is likely to be small. Most analysts agree that economic stability and progress on structural reforms will be far more important drivers for the market.
“A lot of people feel that the IPO resumption is likely to be highly detrimental to market performance, but I think it’s more a sentiment impact rather than a fundamental drain on liquidity,” says Helen Zhu, China equity strategist at Goldman Sachs.
“You don’t really see any meaningful evidence that when IPO activity is very rapid, the market starts to tank.”
According to Ms Zhu’s estimates, Chinese companies will raise about Rmb200bn ($33bn) from domestic IPOs this year.
Of that three-quarters will come from small and midsized companies listing on the growth boards in Shenzhen, rather than on the main board in Shanghai.
With Rmb300bn in funds coming into the market through account openings in 2013, she says the effect on liquidity should be minimal.