IPO Market in China — Down in 2008, But Not By As Much as in the USA



Looking for confirmation of how much more vibrant China’s IPO market — and therefore private equity market — is than the US? Well, the numbers are in. China’s IPO market has stumbled. America’s is in a coma.  

As reported in the Shanghai Daily, the number of IPOs in 2008 on China’s domestic stock exchanges fell, both in number and amount of capital raised. The totals were 76 IPOs, compared to 118 in 2007. The total capital raised was US$15 billion (RMB 103.4 billion) on the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges, down 77% from a year earlier.

While hardly a banner year for IPOs in China, the situation in the IPO market in the US was nothing short of cataclysmic. IPO activity was basically at a standstill, touching lows not seen for a generation. The last two quarters of the year, there wasn’t a single IPO by a venture capital or private equity-backed business. The IPO window in China may have closed somewhat. In the US, it seems welded shut.

What does this mean? Well, for one thing, it’s not a predictor of future activity. The US markets are highly cyclical. IPO activity ceased, in large part, because of more general weakness in the stock market, which was down over 33% in 2008. As the stock market begins to recover, so will IPO activity. Meantime, however, many venture capital and private equity firms in the US are going to suffer. Badly. 

In China, stock markets fell more steeply than in the US, but that didn’t entirely undermine the public appetite for new issues. There are a lot of cultural factors at work here. But, one fact that’s often overlooked is that most shares in China are owned by individuals. In the US, over two-thirds (by valuation) are owned by institutions. Individuals tend to have a higher appetite for risk than institutions, whose managers are constrained by fiduciary responsibilities and a competitive need to outperform their peers.

So, when it comes to the IPO market, China enjoys a structural advantage over the US, at this point in history. Equally important, China’s continued high economic growth of over 8% underpins corporate profit growth that is among the fastest in the world. 

Each $1 of profit in China can still be sold for $15 or more at IPO. That’s why China looks even more attractive, comparatively, than it did before for many of the world’s private equity firms. 

In the global competition for capital, China now ranks as a genuine superpower. 

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