• China may allow foreign firms to launch IPOs

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    SHANGHAI: China may allow foreign companies to launch IPOs on its stock exchanges and issue corporate bonds, the government said, after President Xi Jinping promised the world his country was committed to opening its markets.

    The State Council, China’s Cabinet, late Tuesday posted on its website a notice saying it had granted approval in principle for foreign companies to launch IPOs and issue corporate debt and other financing instruments to “support the widening of foreign companies’ financing channels.”

    The announcement was the latest in a series of liberalisation pledges from China as it braces for the incoming Donald Trump administration.

    Trump has repeatedly blamed China, and globalisation, for the loss of millions of US jobs, raising fears of a trade war between the world’s number one and two economies.

    The State Council gave no further specifics or timing on the potential IPO and debt-market reforms, saying relevant regulations must first be drawn up.

    Such pronouncements can take years to become reality, and analysts said it was too early to predict when, or in what final form, any changes would be introduced.

    “This IPO plan is still at a very early stage and the matching mechanisms haven’t been created and implemented,” said Zhang Fayu, research director for private equity firm Million Tons Capital.

    “Bond issues would start very slowly with one-by-one trials to minimise the market impact.”
    China has moved gradually toward opening its capital markets.

    In 2014, a trading link between the Hong Kong and Shanghai stock exchanges was introduced, and another was started in December between Hong Kong and Shenzhen, China’s other exchange.

    The links give foreigners some access to China-listed shares, while also allowing Chinese firms to buy Hong Kong-traded stocks.

    China’s regulators have recently approved a surge of new IPOs as Chinese companies line up to raise capital, with several debuting weekly since November, compared to a usual twice-a-month rate.

    But traders have blamed the rush of new IPOs for drying up market liquidity, and the benchmark Shanghai index lost ground for five straight sessions before rebounding on Tuesday.

    In a speech at the World Economic Forum at Davos on Tuesday, Xi warned against protectionism and promised China would continue to liberalise, sketching out an alternative view to Trump’s.

    Foreign companies and China’s trading partners continue to complain about access to its markets.

    China ranked 84th globally—behind Saudi Arabia and Ukraine—in the World Bank’s ease of doing business index for 2016, and second to last in an OECD report on restrictiveness towards foreign investment.

    Last month China said it would allow foreign firms to operate fully-owned subsidiaries, rather than joint ventures, in sectors including rail transportation equipment and motorcycles, and loosen a range of other restrictions.

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