Hong Kong to ease reporting rules for companies' results due to virus

FILE PHOTO: Customers queue to buy face masks to protect themselves from an outbreak of a new coronavirus, in Hong Kong, China January 28, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong’s markets regulator and stock exchange will relax rules on how companies must publish their annual results in response to challenges caused by the newly identified coronavirus, they said in a joint statement on Tuesday.

Travel bans and other restrictions imposed across China in a bid to limit the spread of the virus have left auditors and companies’ own finance teams scrambling to finalise reports ahead of exchange deadlines.

In normal circumstances Hong Kong-listed companies must publish preliminary results which have been agreed with their auditor by March 31, or have their shares suspended from trading.

However, the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) and the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong said that because of problems caused by the virus, a company’ shares could likely still be traded if they published preliminary results that had not been agreed with their auditor but were otherwise compliant ahead of the deadline.

If companies are unable to even do that, the SFC and the bourse, part of Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing 0388.HK, will assess whether the information they can disclose is sufficient to allow trading their shares to continue.

A total of 1,241 mainland-headquartered companies were listed in Hong Kong at the end of December, and many other Hong Kong-listed companies have substantial operations on the mainland.

Hong Kong reported its first death from the virus on Tuesday. The total number of infections in mainland China has reached 20,438, with a total global death toll of 427.

Wuhan, the city in which the virus originated, and the surrounding Hubei province are in virtual quarantine, travel restrictions have been imposed across China, and the Lunar New Year public holiday has been extended to keep people at home to try and stop the virus spreading.

The Shanghai Stock Exchange, on Sunday, also eased its rules for publishing results.

Reporting by Alun John, editing by Louise Heavens, Kirsten Donovan