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Why China’s booming IPO market isn’t exactly good news for the country’s economy

August 10, 2022, 7:08 PM UTC
Photo of people walking by and standing outside the Shanghai Stock Exchange in Shanghai, China, on November 4, 2020.
Outside the Shanghai Stock Exchange headquarters in November 2020.
Wang Gang—VCG/Getty Images

Since the U.S.-China trade war began, China has tried to reduce its dependence on U.S. financial markets and provide a path for Chinese firms to fundraise at home. 

In doing so, China’s initial public offering (IPO) market surged. This year, it far outpaced traditional IPO hubs in the U.S., Hong Kong, and Europe in terms of proceeds raised. 

As of August, IPOs on Chinese stock exchanges raised nearly $58 billion—a record high for such a period, according to Bloomberg data. From January to August this year, IPOs in China raised nearly three times as much as listings in the U.S. raised, according to market tracking platform Dealogic. 

In the first six months of 2022, the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges accounted for almost half of the world’s IPO proceeds, according to KPMG

State-owned giants returning home from Wall Street and companies involved in strategic sectors that Beijing wants to lead in—like semiconductors, renewable energy, and biotechnology—dominated China’s listings this year. 

Yet China’s sizzling IPO market doesn’t necessarily translate into good news for the country’s economy. The positive investor sentiment that helped the recent mainland IPO boom could soon start to dwindle, as China continues to adhere to its rigid “zero-COVID” policy—despite the economic consequences—and grapples with a major economic slowdown and deepening real estate crisis. 

Homegrown market

The U.S. and China are currently embroiled in a decades-long audit dispute that has intensified in recent months. Beijing hasn’t yet given the green light for U.S.-listed Chinese firms to allow American access to their books and auditors. As a result, over 260 companies worth $1.3 trillion are at risk of being booted from American stock exchanges by 2024 if they don’t comply with U.S. listing rules. 

Meanwhile, Chinese companies seeking new listings have avoided American stock exchanges in the past 12 months and instead considered mainland and Hong Kong bourses, Louis Lau, partner in the capital markets group at consultancy KPMG China, told Fortune. 

The public listings of state-owned giants gave the mainland’s IPO market a big boost this year, Michael Wu, senior equity analyst at financial services firm Morningstar, told Fortune. China’s two biggest IPOs of 2022 to date are from state oil behemoth CNOOC and state telecom firm China Mobile, which raised $5 billion and $8.6 billion in Shanghai, respectively. Both firms were kicked off the New York Stock Exchange last year after the U.S. government designated them as having ties to China’s military-industrial complex. Chinese investors sought a safe haven in “traditional and mature sectors” like energy and telecommunications, Lau says. 

Chinese monetary policy also helped. Rising interest rates among other tightening measures have hampered corporate fundraising in global markets. China’s relatively accommodating policies, compared to the Fed’s moves, have supported “capital raising and financing activities” in the country, Wu says. 

Slowdown 

China’s public listings in 2022 have been successful in that they’ve “raised money on domestic markets without completely tanking prices,” Thomas Gatley, senior analyst at Gavekal, a China-focused research firm, told Fortune. Shares of Chinese IPOs are up on average 43% versus their listing price, while Hong Kong–listed stocks have plummeted 13% since listing, according to Bloomberg data. 

But “there are limits to this strategy,” he says. 

Beijing’s policies this year, which included injecting tens of billions to boost businesses and consumer spending to help its COVID-battered economy, lifted investor sentiment. The markets “rode some of that buoyancy to rally,” he says, but a growing real estate crisis in China spells trouble because it threatens to upend the economy as Chinese homeowners refuse to pay mortgages and distressed property developers fail to repay bank loans.

The property crisis comes alongside several key problems ahead of the Chinese Communist Party’s all-important annual meeting in October. At the gathering, Xi Jinping is expected to cement his third term as the nation’s president. 

COVID continues to spread, but the state has reiterated its zero tolerance for cases—despite any economic consequences. China’s youth unemployment rate has surged to record highs of nearly 20%. And the International Monetary Fund recently downgraded China’s 2022 and 2023 GDP estimates by 1.1% to 3.3% and 4.6%, respectively, owing to the country’s lockdowns and escalating property chaos.

“It’s hard to recall a time when economic growth is so poor, and unemployment growth so weak” ahead of Beijing’s October meeting, investment bank Jefferies wrote in a Monday note.

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