Fast Retailing gains in Hong Kong debut, aims for bigger China profile

HONG KONG Wed Mar 5, 2014 2:32am EST

A woman checks clothes at Fast Retailing's Uniqlo casual clothing store in Tokyo October 4, 2013. REUTERS/Issei Kato

A woman checks clothes at Fast Retailing's Uniqlo casual clothing store in Tokyo October 4, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Issei Kato

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HONG KONG (Reuters) - Uniqlo owner Fast Retailing Co Ltd climbed 7 percent in its Hong Kong trading debut - a listing aimed at raising its profile in China where it plans to expand aggressively as part of its bid to become the world's top clothing firm.

Though Hong Kong depositary receipts (HDRs) for foreign firms will usually yield little in the way of active market liquidity, some global companies have made the move, seeing it as more of a marketing exercise to appeal to local retail investors.

Aspiring to become the world's leading apparel retailer by 2020, Japan's Fast Retailing (9983.T) is planning to triple its number of stores in Greater China to 1,000 by that time - one of the most ambitious plans for China mapped out by a global clothing firm.

China is Uniqlo's second biggest market after Japan, and by number of stores it is the largest global apparel brand in the country ahead of Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) (HMb.ST), Inditex S.A.'s (ITX.MC) Zara, and Gap Inc (GPS.N).

Helped by their novelty value, the HDRs (6288.HK) gained more than their counterparts traded in Tokyo where they rose 3 percent. At one point in early thin trade, the HDRs shot up by nearly a third before quickly paring back gains. They stood at HK$29.20 in the afternoon.

Each HDR represents one hundredth of the Japanese company's Tokyo-traded stock.

LIQUIDITY ISSUES

To mark the occasion, Chief Executive Tadashi Yanai rang the opening bell at the Hong Kong bourse. He did not speak to media eager to quiz him on the company's interest in possibly acquiring J.Crew Group Inc.

Sources have said Yanai has looked at a possible deal but that the billionaire is likely to balk at the $5 billion price tag J.Crew is said to be asking for.

Traders said liquidity in Hong Kong would be an issue and there was very little reason for institutional investors to buy into the stock on the island city's bourse when they could get better liquidity in Tokyo.

"HDRs in Hong Kong are targeted mainly at the retail market, so liquidity tends to be low," said Jackson Wong, Tanrich Securities' vice-president for equity sales.

By early afternoon, trade in Fast Retailing in Hong Kong was roughly equivalent to $15.9 million compared to about $300 million worth of trade in Tokyo.

While other companies such as Coach Inc (COH.N) (6388.HK) and casino operator Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd (MPEL.O) (6883.HK) have also listed in Hong Kong without raising capital to boost their profile, at least one - financial firm SBI Holdings (8473.T) 6488.HK - has said low liquidity meant it was no longer worth the effort.

As SBI's primary bourse is Tokyo, it will delist in June, it said Tuesday, saving annual costs of more than 100 million yen

($979,000).

HDRs now represent just 0.05 percent of its outstanding shares, down from the 9.1 percent when it originally listed in 2011, while trading "has been minimal." But it said it may consider Hong Kong as a primary bourse for some of its units.

The sole sponsor for Fast Retailing's Hong Kong listing was Morgan Stanley (MS.N), which earned about 150 million yen ($1.5 million) in fees, according to Fast Retailing's listing prospectus.

Fast Retailing has also said it may list on other bourses. ($1 = 102.1350 Japanese Yen)

(Addional reporting by Clement Tan and Denny Thomas in Hong Kong, and Ritsuko Shimizu and Chang-Ran Kim in Tokyo; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

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