We're one-quarter of the way through 2013 and so far no IPOs in China. Capital flows to private companies remain paralyzed. Never fear, says Goldman Sachs. In a 24-page research report published January 23rd of this year (click here to read the front page), Goldman projects there will be 349 IPOs in China this year, a record number. Its prediction is based on Goldman's calculation that 2013 IPO proceeds will reach a fixed percentage (in this case 0.7%) of 2012 year-end total Chinese stock market capitalization.
This formula provides Goldman Sachs with a precise amount of cash to be raised this year in China from IPOs: Rmb 180bn ($29 billion), an 80% increase over total IPO proceeds raised in China last year. It then divvies up that Rmb 180 billion into its projected 349 IPOs, with 93 to be listed in China's main Shanghai stock exchange, 171 on the SME board in Shenzhen, and 85 on the "Chinext" exchange, China's stock exchange for high-growth private companies. To get to Goldman's numbers will require levels of daily IPO activity that China has never seen.
The report features 35 exhibits, graphs, charts and tables, including scatter plots, cross-country comparisons, time series data on what is dubbed "IPO ratios (IPO value as % of last year-end's total market cap)". It's quite a statistical tour de force, with the main objective seeming to be to allay concerns that too many new IPOs in China will hurt overall China share price levels. In other words, Goldman is convinced a key issue that is now blocking IPOs in China is one of supply and demand. The Goldman calculation, therefore, shows that even the 349 new IPOs, taking Rmb180 billion in new money from investors, shouldn't have a particularly adverse impact on overall share price levels in China.
I've heard versions of this analysis (generally not as comprehensive or data-driven as Goldman's) multiple times over the last year. The CSRC itself has never said emphatically why all IPOs have stopped. The CSRC is China's all-powerful domestic securities regulator. Its powers and scope go far beyond that of the US SEC. The CSRC plays the role of "gate keeper" and forensic investigator, to decide which Chinese companies are fit to IPO, when they IPO. The CSRC even has a say in IPO pricing.
The CSRC first began to sharply reduce the number of IPOs in China ten months ago. It then abruptly shut down the IPO process in China completely six months ago.
Everyone, including Goldman, is to some extent guessing when IPOs will resume in China. Goldman's guess, however, comes accessorized with this complex formula that uses December 31, 2012 share prices as a predictor for the scale of IPOs in 2013.
I'm not sure if Goldman Sachs released any follow-up reports or notes since on China IPOs. Goldman was the first Wall Street firm to win an underwriting license in China. It's impossible to say how much Goldman's business has been hurt by the near-year-long drought in China IPOs.
Goldman shows courage in making a precise projection on the number of IPOs in China this year, and relying on their own mathematical equation to derive that number. Here's how all IPO activity in China since 1994 looks when the Goldman formula is plotted:
I'm not a gambling man, and personally hope to see as many IPOs as possible this year of Chinese companies. Even a fool knows the easiest way to lose money in financial markets is to be on the other side of a bet with Goldman Sachs. That said, I'm prepared to take a shot. I'd be delighted to make a bet with the Goldman team that wrote the report. A spread bet, with "over/under" on the 349 number. I take the "under". We settle up on January 1, 2014. Any takers?
Based on our work advising Chinese companies in China, I don't think the only, or even main, reason there are no IPOs in China is because of concerns about how new IPOs might impact overall share prices. I put as much, or more, importance on rebuilding the CSRC's capacity to keep fraudulent companies from going public in China.
The CSRC seems to have had quite a stellar record in this regard until last summer, when a company called Guangdong Xindadi Biotechnology got through the CSRC approval process and was in the final stages of preparing for its IPO. Reports in the Chinese media began to cast doubt on the company and its finances. Within weeks, the Xindadi IPO was pulled by the CSRC. The company and its accountants are now under criminal investigation.
According to voluminous Chinese press reports, Xindadi's financial accounts were perhaps as misstated and inaccurate as some of the more notorious offshore Chinese listed companies like Sino-Forest and Longtop Financial targeted by short sellers and specialist research houses in the US. For those whose Chinese is up to it, you can learn more this article from China's leading business newspaper, 21st Century Business Herald. (click here.) Google Translate will give you the gist.
The CSRC process - with its multiple levels of "double-blind" control, audit, verification - was designed to eliminate any potential for a company with fraudulent financials to receive IPO approval. But, it seems to have happened. The CSRC is still investigating how Xindadi got the IPO green light, and, more important, if there are any other companies among the 650 now in the IPO approval process with faked financial accounts.
As a result, in my view, putting the CSRC IPO approval process back on track is a key variable determining when, and how many, new IPOs will occur this year in China. This cannot be rendered statistically. The head of the CSRC was just moved to another job, which complicates things perhaps even more and may lead to longer delays before IPOs are resumed and get back to the old levels.
How far is the CSRC going now to try to make its IPO approval process more able to detect fraud? It has instructed accountants and lawyers to redo, at their own expense, the audits and legal diligence on companies they represent now on the CSRC waiting list.
A Managing Director at one of China's largest domestic underwriters also told me recently that meetings between CSRC officials, companies waiting for IPO approval and their advisers are now video-taped. A team of facial analysis experts on the CSRC payroll then reviews the tapes to decide if anyone is telling a lie. If true, it opens a new chapter in the history of securities regulation.
If, as I believe, restoring the institutional credibility of the CSRC approval process is a prerequisite for the resumption of major IPO activity in China, a statistical exhibit-heavy analysis like Goldman's is only going to capture some, not all, of the key variables. Human behavior, fear of punishment, organizational function and dysfunction, as well as darker psychological motives also play a large role. An expert in behavioral finance might be more well-equipped to predict accurately when and how many IPOs China will have this year than Goldman's crack team of portfolio strategists.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.