Is U.S. IPO Market Reopening for Chinese Companies?

The Wall Street Journal reports that four Chinese companies are considering IPOs on U.S. stock exchanges, possibly reopening a market that has been shut since 2011 amid concerns over accounting irregularities and fraud:

Travel website Qunar.com Inc., computer-chip maker Montage Technology and mobile-app maker 3G.cn & GO Launcher are in various stages of discussions about possible IPOs in the U.S., according to people familiar with the situation.

Drawing even more attention is Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., of Hangzhou, China, which dominates China’s electronic-commerce market and is widely expected by analysts and investment bankers to launch an IPO with a valuation of tens of billions of dollars. The closely held company is debating whether to list its shares in Hong Kong, New York or another exchange, people familiar with the matter said.

One Chinese company has decided on the U.S. LightInTheBox Holdings Ltd., a Beijing online retailer of wedding dresses, fishing rods and other items to nearly every country in the world, is trying to sell up to $100 million in shares. It is expected to start trading this month on the New York Stock Exchange.

Investment bankers and analysts say even the small number of Chinese deals in the works is a sign of recovery from the boom and bust that rewarded but then burned investors. [Source]

While Chinese companies may be thinking about listing in the United States again, however, the China Economic Review questions whether U.S. investors should embrace such offers:

For Chinese companies, the US market is no doubt more attractive than options closer to home. The US benchmark S&P 500 index has risen roughly 17% this year, while the Hang Seng has continued its lackluster performance by falling nearly 2%. IPOs in Hong Kong have been mixed, thanks largely to this recent track record of the exchange. Meanwhile, both the valuation and the stock price out of the gate could be lifted by the bull-market sentiment in the states. (Even if China’s securities regulator hadn’t halted approvals of IPOs, the market has also performed poorly year to date.)

The prospects for investors aren’t nearly as enticing, however. Certainly, US-listed Chinese companies are a slightly safer bet now that there is no risk of mass delisting. But investors may be no more protected from the fraudulent activities at Chinese companies that lead to the conflict with American regulators in the first place.

US auditors can only request documents from Chinese firms if they have a reason for their inquiry. That means they’ll likely only be able to investigate companies after fraud allegations have come to light, by which time investors may already have been burned. The responsibility remains on the investors to look into the companies themselves to ensure what they’re buying has sound fundamentals. [Source]

June 4, 2013 6:24 AM
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