HKEX trading fee drops as protests dent sentiment, but CEO hopeful of big IPOs

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Ltd (HKEX) 0388.HK reported a 21% drop in trading fee for the first half of the year, as the Sino-U.S. trade war and political unrest in the Asian financial hub hurt market sentiment.

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Charles Li, CEO of the stock exchange operator, told reporters on Wednesday that Hong Kong would weather the latest turmoil as it had previous ones including the SARS epidemic in 2003. “We seem to be quite resilient. I personally have strong confidence that we will walk out of this, quite ok,” Li said.

Ten weeks of increasingly violent clashes between police and pro-democracy protesters, angered by a perceived erosion of freedoms, have plunged Hong Kong into its worst crisis since it reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

“This is not helpful. As a financial center, trust and confidence are important. In this regard we clearly need to sort this issue out,” Li said.

HKEX’s trading fee, which accounts for half its revenue, fell to HK$952 million ($121.3 million) in the six months ended June. Revenue fell 11% to HK$1.9 billion.

Profit, however, rose 3% to HK$5.21 billion for the period, as listing fee rose 6.7% to HK$475 million due to higher overall number of listed companies on the bourse, HKEX said.

Concerns over China’s slowdown, amid a tit-for-tat Sino-U.S. tariff war, have also dragged on Hong Kong’s economy.

Apprehension over capital outflows triggered by escalating political unrest has also put pressure on the Hong Kong currency.

Last month, HKEX suffered a setback after Anheuser-Busch InBev ABI.BR pulled a planned Hong Kong listing of its Asia Pacific unit, in what would have been the world's biggest IPO of 2019. AB InBev aimed to sell as much as $9.8 billion in Budweiser stock.

“I will not comment on any specific listings. I am hopeful and hoping that we will see them again at some point in the future,” Lee said, replying to a question on the outlook for IPOs after the failed listing.

When asked if the protests would delay other issues such as Alibaba's BABA.N planned $20 billion Hong Kong listing, Li said: "I am confident that companies like that (Alibaba) ultimately will find a home here, because this is home and I think they will come. I don't know when."

Writing by Anshuman Daga; Reporting by Lukas Job and Sumeet Chatterjee; Editing by Gopakumar Warrier and Himani Sarkar