A Chinese pork producer scrapped what could have been the world's biggest IPO in a year when investors balked at the high price.
The failed IPO was a blow to WH Group, which just eight months ago bought Smithfield Foods in the biggest Chinese acquisition of a U.S. company so far.
At that time, the landmark deal, and the Chinese company's private equity shareholders, were widely lauded for capturing China's growing appetite for high-quality meat with the purchase of the world's largest hog producer. On Tuesday, however, that marriage of Smithfield and Shuanghui became the latest Asian IPO to face investor distaste, and pulled an IPO that had already been reduced to US$1.9 billion from as much as US$5.3 billion.
At US$5.3 billion, WH's IPO could have been the world's biggest offering since Brazil-based insurer BB Seguridade Participacoes SA's IPO that raised US$5.7 billion in April 2013, according to Dealogic.
But even before Tuesday's cancellation, the underwriters, of which there was a record 29, were struggling to sell WH Group's offering. Lackluster demand drove bankers to shrink the IPO last week, so that shareholders, including Chinese private-equity firm CDH and Goldman Sachs' private-equity firm, decided to sell none of their shares as planned.
Investors, including Singapore private-equity firm GIC, cut their orders as the share sale progressed. Bankers also had no luck enlisting cornerstone investors--a common trait of Hong Kong IPOs--who pledge to hold their shares for six months after a listing hopeful goes public. Before the deal was cut last week, WH's IPO would have been Hong Kong's largest in three years.
At issue, however, wasn't just how much of the stock was sold, but the price WH was seeking.
'The whole team didn't listen to the market carefully (on valuations),' one of the shareholders of WH told The Wall Street Journal. He said those working on the WH IPO, from management to shareholders and the underwriters, miscalculated investor demand for the Sino-U.S. pork producer.
By all counts, the company and its slew of bankers could have done a better job of gauging a market that has increasingly become wary of mega Asian IPOs, especially at a time when a flopped debut by Japan Display Inc., a key Apple Inc. supplier, in Tokyo had scared people off buying untested shares. From the start of the IPO process, WH's bankers and its shareholders, were, say investors, just asking for too much--the price range of HK$8-11.25 per share was at a valuation of 15-20.8 times forward earnings. To compare, U.S.-based distributor Hormel Foods is trading around 20 times, while WH's mainland China-listed unit Henan Shuanghui Investment & Development is trading at around 17 times.
While WH's creation as the ultimate play on the increasingly wealthy Chinese consumer had fans, and a way to get cheaper U.S. pork into China, many were reluctant to buy the IPO even at 15 times forward earnings, the low end of the range. One fund manager, who declined to be named, said the combined Shuanghui-Smithfield company was still in its early days. The first shipments of U.S. pork from Smithfield through WH only began in January.
'The synergies between Shuangui and Smithfield are untested. Why do investors have to buy in a hurry? They would rather wait until the valuation is attractive, ' said Ben Kwong, associate director of Taiwanese brokerage KGI Asia Ltd. Mr. Kwong didn't buy into the WH IPO.
'The WH IPO looked expensive, ' said David Gaud, fund manager for Asia, excluding Japan, at Edmond de Rothschild Asset Management, which has $60 billion under management, adding his funds didn't participate in the WH IPO. Investors have become especially wary of IPOs with so many high-profile transactions struggling this year: Japan Display, which raised US$3.09 billion in its March listing, is down 25% from its IPO price, while Asia's biggest IPO after that of the LCD screen maker, that by utility HK Electric, is down 3.3%.
With a record 29 underwriters on the WH IPO, the company had no shortage of promoters. Four banks, BOC International, a unit of Bank of China Ltd, which lent the $4 billion Shuanghui used to buy Smithfield, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Morgan Stanley and UBS AG, led the transaction. Instead, two weeks into order-taking, the size of the deal was cut, the listing date pushed back to May 8 from April 30, and retail investor interest was lukewarm. Just a third of the tranche allocated to the Hong Kong retail public, or 5% of the IPO, was bought, according to WH's announcement last week.
Price and profit weren't the only factors that put investors off: the whole idea of bringing traditionally cheaper pork from the U.S. into China increasingly fell by the wayside, as a disease that hit pigs from last spring spiked American pork prices. On average, pork prices in the U.S. are 50% below that in China, because feed, especially corn, is lower. Chicago hog futures surged 47% this year to US$1.25 a pound and the price was up 2.5% since the IPO was launched. While there is no doubt that prices will eventually stabilize, investors criticized WH's rush to list.
Adding a negative tone to the deal also include the award shares given to two executives before listing, raising corporate governance concerns, some investors say. Chairman and CEO Wan Long and director Yang Zhijun, who manages mergers and acquisitions for the firm, were awarded a combined $597 million bonus in company shares, which the prospectus calls 'recognition and reward for [their] contribution to the acquisition of Smithfield.'
Last week, WH Group decided to cut more than half of its new shares offering to 1.3 billion shares, or 10% of enlarged share capital, down from 2.9 billion shares or 20% of the firm. It kept the price range unchanged at HK$8-HK$11.25.
WH had planned to use most of the proceeds from the offering to repay the debt the company took to buy Smithfield. The firm had a debt-to-equity ratio of 236.8% as of the end of December--well above the 7.6% it had a year ago. Total borrowings by WH came to $7.4 billion at the end of December, according to the pork firm's prospectus.
中国猪肉制品生产商万洲国际有限公司(WH Group Ltd., 简称：万洲国际)已取消香港首次公开募股(IPO)计划，这桩IPO原本可以创下今年全球最大上市交易，但是由于定价较高，投资者纷纷回避此次IPO。
根据Dealogic的数据，如果按照53亿美元的最初发行规模，万洲国际IPO原本可以成为自巴西保险商BB Seguridade Participacoes SA上市以来全球最大IPO。BB Seguridade Participacoes SA在2013年4月上市，融资规模为57亿美元。
但是早在周二取消IPO计划之前，万洲国际的承销商已经难以推销该公司此次拟发行的新股。万洲国际的承销商数量创纪录的达到29位。低迷的需求导致银行家上周缩减了此次IPO规模；而包括中国私募股权投资公司鼎晖投资(CDH Investments)，以及高盛(Goldman Sachs)旗下私募股权投资公司在内的股东们也纷纷决定不按照计划转售股份。
从各方面看，万洲国际及其聘请的众多银行家本来应该可以更好地把握对亚洲大规模IPO交易持越来越谨慎态度的市场，特别是在苹果公司(Apple Inc.)的重要供应商、生产显示器的日本公司Japan Display Inc.东京上市首日暴跌之后。该公司上市首日的行情吓坏了投资者，令投资者不敢买入未经市场检验的新股。投资者称，从万洲国际IPO启动伊始，其承销商和股东的要价就过高，将指导价区间定在每股8港元至11.25港元，相当于预估市盈率15到20.8倍。相比之下，美国经销商荷美尔食品公司(Hormel Foods)目前的市盈率才20倍左右，而万洲国际旗下在中国内地上市的企业河南双汇投资发展股份有限公司(Henan Shuanghui Investment & Development)的市盈率为17倍左右。
台湾券商凯基证券亚洲有限公司(KGI Asia Ltd.)的副董事邝民彬(Ben Kwong)说，双汇与Smithfield之间的协同配合还未经检验，投资者为什么要急着去买呢？他们宁愿等到估值有吸引力的时候再出手。邝民彬没有买入万洲国际的新股。
爱德蒙得洛希尔资产管理公司(Edmond de Rothschild Asset Management)亚洲市场（不含日本）基金经理高迪(David Gaud)表示，万洲国际IPO定价看来太高。他还说，他的基金没有参与万州国际的IPO；他所在公司管理着600亿美元资产。
在今年许多备受瞩目的交易遭遇种种困难之后，投资者对IPO活动变得尤其警惕：Japan Display在3月份上市时筹资30.9亿美元，眼下股价已较IPO发行价下跌了25%；港灯电力投资(Hk Electric Investments Ltd.)的IPO规模紧随Japan Display之后、位于亚洲第二，目前股价已下跌3.3%。
万洲国际承销商数量达到创纪录的29家，在宣传方面并无劣势。这一交易由中银国际控股有限公司(BOC International Holdings Ltd.)、高盛集团、摩根士丹利(Morgan Stanley)和瑞士银行(UBS AG)四家银行牵头。其中中银国际是中国银行股份有限公司(Bank of China Ltd)的子公司，曾向双汇提供40亿美元贷款，助其收购Smithfield。然而与预期相反，新股接受认购开始两周后，万洲国际缩减了IPO规模，将上市日期从4月30日推后至5月8日，而且个人投资者兴趣冷淡。据万洲国际上周发布的公告称，面向香港个人投资者公开发售的部分(占IPO规模的5%)仅有三分之一获得认购。