By Julia Fioretti
HONGKONG (Reuters) – Bankers in Asia are betting on newly-listed companies returning to the markets for fresh capital as last year’s flood of initial public offerings (IPOs) slows to a trickle, with 2019 seeing the weakest start in equity sales in three years.
Equity sales in the region, including IPOs, convertible bonds and follow-on sales, fell 41 percent to $49.1 billion (£37.6 billion) in the first quarter, Refinitiv data show, the slowest since 2016.
Fees from equity capital market (ECM) deals have reached $966 million so far, bankers’ worst quarterly haul in six years.
The data make for a sobering read after 2018 when Asia’s red-hot markets hosted many multi-billion dollar IPOs, including SoftBank Corp’s $23.6 billion Tokyo float and Xiaomi’s $5.4 billion one in Hong Kong.
But bankers hope some of the gloom will be lifted as many of the companies that went public last year return for additional capital, making 2019 less a year of jumbo IPOs and more of follow-on capital raisings and convertible bonds.
“We are already seeing companies that went public last year coming back … with follow-on offerings,” said Goldman Sachs’ David Binnion, co-head of equity capital markets, Asia ex-Japan.
“In many situations these follow-on financings are coming sooner after listing than we have historically seen, reflecting the capital-intensive nature of these growth companies.”
Many firms that went public last year raised less than they had aimed for as investors pushed back against lofty valuations.
That will further drive follow-on activity, bankers said.
Chinese electric vehicle maker NIO, video streaming company iQIYI and e-commerce firm Pinduoduo, all 2018 IPOs, have come back to the market to raise funds.
NIO raised $750 million in a five-year convertible bond this year, four months after it went public in New York, while iQIYI raised $1.1 billion in six-year convertible bonds this week in its second such issue within a year of its IPO.
Asian companies have sold $21.3 billion in convertible bonds so far, a record for this point in any year.
After a blockbuster IPO year for Asia in 2018, led by Hong Kong that hosted deals worth $36.3 billion – its best year in eight – 2019 is expected to be much slower.
“Some drivers of last year, such as mega IPOs out of China will probably be fewer,” said Murli Maiya, co-head of investment banking coverage for Asia Pacific for JPMorgan.
“There should be continued investor interest in IPOs, but likely at different price points and in different sectors.”
Hong Kong’s largest IPOs this year are likely to be from non-Chinese firms such as UK data centre operator Global Switch, which plans to raise $1 billion, and a spin-off of the Asian interests of the world’s largest brewer, Anheuser-Busch InBev, which could raise over $5 billion, sources say.
The largest IPO in Asia this year so far was the $687 million float of Embassy Office Parks REIT in India, the country’s first real estate investment trust IPO.
But bankers are optimistic the good performance of smaller IPOs, such as CStone Pharmaceuticals and Chinese broker Futu Holdings, will give investors confidence after the bleak performance of many newly-listed shares in 2018.
Despite the headline-grabbing amounts raised in IPOs last year, many companies languished below their offer prices with Sino-U.S. trade tensions keeping investors on tenterhooks.
Successful floats will give “investors the confidence that the IPO market is still an important contributor to performance and that’s important for the rest of 2019”, said Jason Cox, head of ECM, Asia Pacific for Deutsche Bank.
(This story refiles to fix typo in 6th paragraph.)
(Reporting by Julia Fioretti; Editing by Jennifer Hughes and Himani Sarkar)