Christina Bao

[This piece was originally published as the foreword to the ALB Hong Kong IPO Handbook 2021. To get your copy of the handbook, please click here.]


Over the last decade, Hong Kong has emerged as the world’s leading market for capital raising via initial public offerings (IPOs). This has secured the city’s role as one of the world’s premier financial centres, and as Asia’s leading capital market.

Hong Kong is uniquely positioned as an ideal IPO venue, connecting the international and Mainland China markets, and attracting regional and international investors that support ambitious companies with growth aspirations. Open and international markets, robust infrastructure, internationally aligned regulatory regimes, rule of law, free flow of information and capital, and a deep pool of talent are what make Hong Kong attractive as an international financial centre.

CONNECTING CHINA AND THE WORLD

Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Limited (HKEX) is the cornerstone of Hong Kong’s capital markets and IPO capabilities, with an internationally recognised role and relevance as Asia’s global marketplace.

One of our goals at HKEX is to attract high quality companies from around the world to list in the city, supporting the depth and breadth of Hong Kong as a diverse and progressive marketplace. Many of the world’s most high-profile and innovative companies have come to list at HKEX in recent years, attracted by the diversity, depth of liquidity, and quality of the market. This has made us the world’s top exchange for IPO fundraising in seven of the past 12 years.

HKEX is uniquely placed as a premier capital market, supporting local and regional companies funding their ambitions, and facilitating regional and international investors in gaining access to these corporate growth stories. In particular, Hong Kong plays a major role in connecting Chinese companies with international investors, and international companies with Chinese investors. Since the 1990s, our capital markets have served as the primary gateway for Mainland companies to connect with global investors and customers, and further their corporate development in Asia and beyond.

The success of Stock Connect, the mutual market access scheme between the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and the Mainland bourses in Shanghai and Shenzhen, launched in 2014 and 2016 respetively, provides a convenient and efficient channel for Chinese and international capital. The Connect schemes have further secured Hong Kong’s role as the market of choice for capital and investment connectivity for China and the world. HKEX’s role as a connector and a facilitator between the East and the West is unique and more relevant than ever in today’s fast changing global economy.

NEW CHAPTERS

HKEX looks to ensure that its listing framework always remains competitive and attractive, whilst striking a balance in providing adequate investor protection measures. In 2018, we introduced three new listing chapters to accommodate new business models and structures in response to trends in globalisation and the advances of technology.

These new chapters have fuelled a new growth story for Hong Kong’s capital markets, welcoming innovative New Economy companies with weighted voting rights structures, as well as pre-revenue biotech issuers. These issuers operate in fast-growing sectors, often reflecting innovative business momentums, and offer investors, advisors and participants in Hong Kong broader opportunities. A new concessionary secondary listing route has also recently been established for Greater China companies that wish to secondary list in Hong Kong.

Thanks to the listing reforms, HKEX has become the go-to international capital market for biotech and New Economy companies. As of 25th June 2021, 152 New Economy companies had listed in Hong Kong since April 2018 when the new listing rules took effect, raising a total of HK$739 billion, and accounting for 63%
of IPO funds raised in Hong Kong during the period. Among them, 33 pre-revenue biotech companies listed under Chapter 18A, raising a total of HK$85 billion. Also, we welcomed 13 “homecoming” secondary listings under Chapter 19C in the same period, raising a total of HK$296 billion.

The momentum of the New Economy continues to be strong in Hong Kong, and it is not just evidenced by the booming number of IPOs, but also by its reception in the secondary market and among investors. Average daily turnover contribution from New Economy companies listed since 2018 in the cash equities market rose from 1.2% in that year to more than 21% in 2021.

BIOTECH BOOM

The arrival of pre-revenue biotech companies on transforming the Hong Kong market DNA, making it Asia’s largest and the world’s second largest biotech fundraising hub. We are now home to an increasingly diversified suite of healthcare and biotech companies seeking international exposure, proximity to China, and deep liquid markets.

The healthcare and biotech IPO pipeline remains robust: 40 healthcare and biotech companies have submitted IPO applications as of 25th June in 2021, including 15 pre-revenue biotech companies. From 2017 to 2020, the healthcare sector saw CAGR of 49% in terms of number of IPOs, 135% in IPO funds raised, and 61% CAGR in total market capitalisation.

Issuers are becoming more diversified in terms of healthcare subsector, including Medical Services (hospital/ clinic), Contract Research Organisations / Contract Development Manufacturing Organisations
/ Contract Manufacturing Organisations, Pharmaceuticals, Medical Device and Digital Health. HKEX is also leading the way in hosting issuers that pioneer medical AI applications, a growth trend in large part driven by innovations in China and beyond.

The increasing number of biotech listings and a thriving secondary market have nurtured a growing ecosystem of specialised biotech market participants in Hong Kong, including bankers, lawyers and investment managers to analysts. The further development of this ecosystem is critical to our continued success as an IPO centre as it enhances our market sophistication and transparency, which are critical components in the sustainable growth of our markets and an industry.

DIVERSITY BUILDS STRENGTH

HKEX is committed to continuing to enhance its listing framework, whilst making our market infrastructure more efficient and competitive. 

Our market attracts a broad investor base that includes institutions, retail investors, hedge funds and sector specialists. Each group brings their own risk appetite and profile, helping to build long-term market resilience and sustainability.

About 50% of the investors participating in HKEX markets are domiciled outside of Hong Kong, and a rising proportion hail from Canada, Europe, the Middle East, and across Asia. We are also increasing the geographical diversity of our listing community. We see great opportunity in attracting more Southeast Asian companies to Hong Kong, believing that they would benefit from our liquid and resilient markets, as well as access to the diverse community of international investors that has shaped Hong Kong’s markets.

The 2018 listing reforms have transformed not only our equity market, but also our markets across other asset classes. The growing number of benchmarks that track the development of the New Economy and biotech sectors, as well as the increased number of associated ETFs, futures, and options products, has further enhanced the diversity, breadth, and depth of our markets.

New Economy and biotech players are in the spotlight as the world refocuses post-COVID, yet HKEX’s role in connecting China with the world makes it uniquely positioned to support ambitious companies from all emerging sectors – from China and beyond. For those seeking international exposure and capital to fuel their growth aspirations, HKEX is the market of choice.

TECHNOLOGY FOR THE FUTURE

Resilience and innovation define the future of our business, as a company and market operator, and HKEX continues to enhance its market infrastructure and IPO processes, diversify its product base and strengthen its platforms to make our markets more competitive and attractive for Hong Kong, Chinese and international issuers.

HKEX is undergoing a digital transformation of its listing functions to make its processes more efficient, transparent and user-friendly. We are developing a new IPO processing platform called FINI (Fast Interface for New Issuance), which will enable IPO market participants, advisers, and regulators to interact digitally and seamlessly on the many steps that comprise the end-to-end IPO settlement process. 

By modernising both the logic and infrastructure of the IPO settlement process HKEX expects FINI to shorten the time gap between IPO pricing and trading, offering investors quicker access to new listings. At the same time, IPO issuers will be able to price their shares closer to the launch of trading, and thus reduce risk.

HKEX is also going paperless for its entire IPO application process, helping improve efficiency, as well as supporting the environment. All IPOs in Hong Kong must be paperless starting from July 2021, while documents on display to support listings and transactions must be made available online from October. Both new requirements will improve data quality and increase automation for market participants in the regulatory form submission processes, benefiting the market as a whole. It is expected that 11,000 paper forms will be eliminated in the first year of the launch.

We are confident that FINI, together with our paperless and other initiatives, will pave the way for a digital transformation of Hong Kong’s capital market, and also reflect HKEX’s ongoing commitment to sustainability and ESG principles.

A UNIQUE AND RELEVANT ROLE

Hong Kong, with HKEX at its centre, has a unique and important role to play in the years ahead as the global capital markets leader in the Asian time zone.

The continued growth and international influence of China’s economy makes our role as an IPO venue for Mainland Chinese companies seeking international exposure more relevant than ever. HKEX, working alongside our customers and our community, looks forward to our shared continued success as the world’s leading IPO venue.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ms Christina Bao, Co-Head of Sales & Marketing, Markets, HKEX, is heading a team to support global issuers. Ms Bao joined HKEX in 2016 as the Chief of Staff, reporting to the CE of HKEX. She was responsible for the planning and oversight of the Group’s strategic projects.

Prior to joining HKEX, Christina held a number of senior positions at Ping An Bank (previously at Shenzhen Development Bank, which merged with Ping An Bank in 2010) since 2001. At Shenzhen Development Bank, she served as the Chief of Staff to the Chairman and CEO from 2005 until 2010, and was responsible for the bank’s strategic projects, Investor Relations and Public Relations. After the merger and integration of the two banks, she headed Retail e-Banking, Service & Marketing, and the Retail e-Finance Strategic Business Unit for Ping An Bank. Ms Bao received her Master of Business Administration (Finance, General) from the Peking University of Mainland China.