【英语财经】别对中国企业IPO掉以轻心 US investors should be cautious of Chinese IPOs

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2014-5-29 21:41

小艾摘要: By John PlenderWhat is happening to investors’ risk appetite? The continuing downward pressure on US Treasury bond yields indicates a degree of caution in the air. For their part equity investors hav ...
US investors should be cautious of Chinese IPOs
By John Plender

What is happening to investors’ risk appetite? The continuing downward pressure on US Treasury bond yields indicates a degree of caution in the air. For their part equity investors have been retreating into size and quality. There has also been a global sell-off in technology stocks after a period in which demand in the IPO market for shares in companies that made no money knew no bounds.

Yet there are pockets of gung-ho risk-taking in global markets where caution is being thrown to the wind. Untried instruments such as contingent convertibles in banking, for example, are finding enthusiastic buyers, reflecting the manic search for yield. Still more intriguing is the renewed American interest in Chinese company IPOs, despite the raft of accounting frauds that emerged from the now notorious Chinese reverse mergers on the Nasdaq exchange in recent years.

Last week JD.com, the Chinese online direct sales company, was successfully floated on Nasdaq at a valuation of more than $25bn despite never having made a profit since inception. This followed the earlier successful IPO of Sina Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter, which was also lossmaking. Yet corporate governance at JD.com compares unfavourably with US tech companies. Given the dual voting share structures and crony boards that exist at the likes of Google and Facebook, that is a serious stricture.

Governance shortfalls

At JD.com Richard Liu, the founder, combines the role of chairman and chief executive while retaining 83.7 per cent of the voting power despite owning only 18 per cent of the total equity.

Nasdaq still, despite the record with Chinese companies, allows foreign issuers to apply lower corporate governance standards of the home country, which in this case is the Cayman Islands, not China. The Cayman jurisdiction is flabby on independent representation in the board room, so outside shareholders lack an important protection they badly need in the light of other governance shortfalls.

The directors and executives, along with their assets, are in China, which means any infringement of outside shareholders’ rights cannot be addressed effectively through the US courts.

American investors’ ownership rights are also weak because property rights in China are notoriously vague and changeable at official whim. Nor are they likely to see any hard cash from the company since it does not propose to pay out dividends.

Quality of information (or lack of it) is likewise an issue. No formal assessment of internal control was conducted before JD.com’s flotation. What the directors do know is that there is a material weakness in control because not enough people in the company have adequate knowledge of US accounting principles.

Why, then, are investors prepared to plunge in where governance angels fear to tread? The answer is that JD.com is already the largest online direct sales company in China by transaction volume. You do not have to believe it will achieve its stated goal of becoming the largest ecommerce company in the world to see the case for a directional bet to acquire exposure to a high growth economy that is preparing to rebalance from investment and exports to consumption-led growth.

Disappointing returns

Lack of profit simply reflects heavy investment in growth. As with tech stocks in the US there is also a temptation to regard such investments as a lottery ticket on the company dominating a large new growth market or disrupting a large existing market by initiating a process of creative destruction.

The same arguments will no doubt be applied to Alibaba, the much larger Chinese ecommerce company that is expected to float in the US later this year.

Yet buyers should beware because China is no exception from the norm in IPO markets whereby big gains can be made on day one, yet longer-term returns disappoint. Between 1993 and 2013 168 companies from Hong Kong and China went public on organised stock exchanges in the US, not including those notorious reverse mergers.

Jay Ritter, a professor of finance at the University of Florida, calculates that in the three years from flotation the average return on these 168 IPOs was minus 3.6 per cent, or an average of minus 1 per cent a year. Investors who bought the S&P 500 would have earned an average 23 per cent or about 8 per cent a year. In fact, Chinese stocks have performed dismally over the period regardless of where they were traded.

China thus performs a function in global markets that Latin America performed in earlier centuries. It is a place of boundless promise with an endless capacity to part investors from their money. The novel feature is that China has performed this trick while delivering astonishingly high economic growth.

The writer is an FT columnist

投资者的风险偏好正在发生什么变化?美国长期国债收益率的持续下行压力表明,市场中已经有了一丝谨慎的情绪。对股票投资者来说,他们一直在把资金撤回大盘股和质优股。在全球范围内还出现了一轮抛售科技股的浪潮,而此前的一段时期,IPO市场上对于尚未盈利的科技企业的股票需求则几乎没有上限。

但在全球市场中同样存在不少热情高涨的冒险行为,谨慎被扔进了风里。例如,银行的或有可转换债券(contingent convertible bond)等未经市场检验的投资工具受到了买家的热烈追捧,这反映出了市场对收益率的狂热追求。更加引人注意的是,美国投资者对中国企业的IPO交易重新产生了兴趣,虽然近年来中国企业在纳斯达克(Nasdaq)交易所的反向收购交易中爆出了大量会计欺诈丑闻,而反向收购模式现已声名狼藉。

上周,中国网上直销企业京东(JD.com)成功在纳斯达克上市(见右图),市场估值超过250亿美元,不过该公司自成立以来从未实现过盈利。在此之前,新浪微博(Sina Weibo)也成功地进行了IPO,这是中国版的Twitter,并且同样一直处于亏损状态。但京东的企业治理水平与美国的科技企业比起来相形见绌。考虑到谷歌(Google)、Facebook等美国公司存在的双重投票权结构以及董事会成员间的密友关系,这是一项非常严厉的批评。

公司治理欠缺

在京东,公司创始人刘强东(Richard Liu)身兼董事长和首席执行官的双重角色,同时保有83.7%的投票权,不过他的持股仅占公司总股本的18%。

虽然在纳斯达克上市的中国企业有过不佳的纪录,纳斯达克仍然允许外国上市公司执行注册地所在国的较低公司治理标准;而京东的注册地是在开曼群岛,不是中国。开曼的法律制度对于董事会成员的独立代表性要求宽松,因此外部股东就缺少了一层重要的保护,而由于存在其他治理缺陷,这种保护是他们极为需要的。

董事和高管层,连同他们所管理的资产,都位于中国,这意味着任何侵犯外部股东权益的行为,都不能通过美国的法院得到有效处理。

美国投资者的所有者权利也很薄弱,因为中国的产权制度是出了名的模糊,并且可能因为官方的心血来潮而发生变化。投资者也不太可能从京东获得实实在在的现金收入,因为该公司并不准备支付股利。

信息披露质量(或者缺乏信息)同样也是一个问题。在京东上市以前,该公司没有对内部控制机制进行过正式评估。而该公司董事清楚知道的是,公司的内部控制存在实质性缺陷,因为公司内部缺乏对于美国会计准则有充分了解的人才。

那么,投资者为什么甘愿追捧在公司治理方面极其糟糕的股票?答案在于,按交易量计算,京东现已是中国第一大线上直销公司。你无需相信该公司能够实现其所宣称的成为全球第一大电商企业的目标,也能看出有理由进行方向性下注,购买一个高速增长经济体中的资产——目前中国正准备再平衡经济结构,从依靠投资和出口拉动转向消费驱动型经济增长。

令人失望的投资回报

利润率低下仅仅反映出为了实现增长而进行的大规模投资。和美国的科技股一样,投资者同样面临将此类投资看成一张彩票的诱惑,押注于一家公司能够主导一个新兴的大规模成长型市场,或者通过“创造性毁灭”扰乱一个现有的大型市场。

同样的理由毫无疑问也将被用在阿里巴巴(Alibaba)身上,这家规模比京东大得多的中国电商企业预计将于今年晚些时候在美国上市。

但投资者们应当谨慎小心,因为IPO市场中的惯例同样适用于中国——新股上市首日可能大幅上涨,但更长期间的回报率则令人失望。在1993至2013年间,来自中国大陆和香港的168家企业在美国的正规股票交易所公开发行上市,其中不包括那些声名狼藉的通过反向收购模式上市的公司。

据佛罗里达大学(University of Florida)的金融学教授杰伊?里特(Jay Ritter)测算,上述168支股票在上市后的三年当中,平均累计收益率为-3.6%,或者每年的平均收益率为-1%。如果投资者同期购买了标普500(S&P 500)指数产品,则将实现23%的平均累计收益率或者每年8%的收益率。事实上,在这一时期里,中国上市公司股票的走势都很惨淡,不论它们的上市地点是在哪里。

因此在全球市场当中,中国所发挥的作用和几个世纪前的拉丁美洲一样。这是一个拥有无限前景的地方,同时拥有无穷无尽的使投资者遭受损失的能力。新奇之处在于,中国在表演这个把戏的同时实现了令人惊叹的经济高速增长。

译者/马拉

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