Hong Kong exchange says companies enquiring about dual class share system

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEX) 0388.HK said on Wednesday it had received enquiries from companies for dual-class share listings as both it and the Singapore bourse gear up to allow such initial public offerings.

Hong Kong’s proposed changes, which stem from a discussion paper published in June, come as Hong Kong bankers expect a slew of blockbuster IPOs from Chinese technology firms with an estimated combined market value of some $500 billion over the next two years.

“Completing the listing reform is one of our top priorities in order to secure our relevance as a premier global capital formation center,” HKEX CEO Charles Li told reporters on Wednesday as he outlined the exchange’s strategic goals for 2018.

“We have already received some enquiries about listing under the new regime, and we plan to consult the market on proposed rule changes before the end of this quarter,” he said.

“We are targeting the beginning of June for the publication of the new rules,” Li said.

Dual-class shares, which typically give one set of shareholders greater voting rights than others, have been favored by many younger tech firms, with the extra voting power given to top executives seen as protection against pressure for short-term returns.

Hong Kong is hoping that dual-class shares will put in on a more even footing with New York, which has managed to attract more Chinese tech IPOs.

Alibaba Group Holding BABA.N held its record $25 billion public float in New York in 2014 after Hong Kong, its favored venue, refused to accept its governance structure where a self-selecting group of senior managers control the majority of board appointments.

Dual class shares have, however, been criticized by corporate governance advocates and fund managers, who have warned of its potential abuse by company insiders.

Last week, Singapore said it would allow dual-share structure IPOs as it seeks to become the go-to-place for listings by Southeast Asian start-ups and become a fintech and new technology hub.

Writing by Anshuman Daga; Editing by Edwina Gibbs