Undeterred by trade war, tensions, Chinese firms continue with US stock listings

XPeng chose the NYSE because it offers the most "sophisticated and deepest" capital markets in the world.
XPeng chose the NYSE because it offers the most "sophisticated and deepest" capital markets in the world.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING -When Chinese electric carmaker XPeng Motors made their debut on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on Aug 27, it closed 40 per cent higher on its first day of trading alone.

Raising US$1.5 billion (S$2.05 billion) in the process, the company also sold more than 100 million shares, or American depository receipts, 15 million more than was initially expected.

In the face of growing tensions between Beijing and Washington, compounded by threats from the Trump administration to delist or impose additional scrutiny on Chinese companies listing in the US, XPeng and several other Chinese firms have gone out on a limb in launching initial public offerings in the US.

The reason, analysts say, is two-fold: proximity and prominence.

XPeng chose the NYSE because it offers the most "sophisticated and deepest" capital markets in the world, which is important for new and growing industries, said company president Brian Gu during the initial offering.

In the past year, no fewer than three electric carmakers have listed on US bourses: XPeng, LI Auto and Nio.

Bankers would want companies to be closer to investment capital offering more liquidity, said Mr Tu Le of Sino Auto Insights, a business intelligence and advisory firm.

"Their presence in the US would also signal to the market that they have global ambitions and are serious about taking on Tesla," he said.

But being on the US bourses can also be a double-edged sword: It opens up Chinese firms to scrutiny from American authorities.

On June 4, US President Donald Trump ordered a White House task force to review the risks posed to American investors by Chinese stocks.

This followed a series of accounting scandals at Chinese firms listed in the US, most prominent of which involved Starbucks challenger Luckin Coffee. The takeaway coffee chain, which listed on the Nasdaq Stock Market in May 2019, lost most of its market value earlier this after disclosing it fabricated nearly US$300 million in recorded sales.

 
 
 

Early last month, the US government had also threatened to delist Chinese companies that did not meet accounting standards.

As relations between the US and China come under significant strain, a growing slate of US-listed Chinese companies have aimed for a trading foothold in Hong Kong.

Yum China, which operates KFC and Pizza Hut in the world's most populous country, on Friday (Sept 4) said it raised HK$17.3 billion (S$2.2 billion) in its Hong Kong listing.

Other US-listed Chinese firms to have done second listings in Hong Kong include online retailer JD.com and internet firm NetEase, which collectively raised US$7.6 billion in June.

Still, the allure of the world's deepest stock exchange appears hard to resist, and worth the risk of a future delisting.

At the same time, many US investors are still drawn to companies with strong growth potential - Chinese or not.

XPeng's IPO was preceded by KE Holdings, a property management company backed by tech giant Tencent and Japan's SoftBank Group, and LI Auto, which had been backed by units of Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and UBS.

Some 354 companies of Chinese origin have listed in the US since 1993, raising a total of US$88.5 billion, according to Citigroup.

 
 
 

Since then, 107 have been delisted, but the current market value of those remaining stands at US$1.5 trillion.

That Chinese tech firms and those with high growth potential are still choosing to fundraise in the US is a clear sign of market forces at work, said Dr Wang Huiyao, president of the Centre for China and Globalization, a Chinese non-government think-tank.

Traditionally, Chinese stocks have been seen as a source of high growth and high investment returns.

"Even if the US administration wants a decoupling from China and has been pushing... the Chinese government and businesses have never said the same. They want to be (in the US)," he told The Straits Times.

For non state-owned companies, a US IPO, which has some of the most stringent standards globally and could take years of preparation, would also show that their firm can stand up to scrutiny, and offers international prominence.

"All of these have been business decisions, not politics," he said.