China’s Tech Giants Are Muscling In on Lucrative IPO Market

China’s big technology companies, facing a crackdown at home over their dominance in online commerce and push into finance, are finding success in underwriting initial public offerings abroad.

Online brokerages backed by Xiaomi Corp. and Tencent Holdings Ltd. have been hired to help arrange almost every blockbuster overseas share sale by China’s new economy firms over the past year such as XPeng Inc. and Li Auto Inc.

Their success makes them a threat to China’s small and mid-sized brokers in an already crowded field. Xiaomi-backed Up Fintech Holding Ltd. -- known as Tiger Brokers -- and Tencent’s Futu Holdings Ltd. are capitalizing on their close affinity with China’s startup scene and a swelling number of clients among the Chinese diaspora.

“The rise of China’s new economy is a long-term and clear trend that will fuel the making of a global Chinese bank,” said Wu Tianhua, chief executive officer of Up Fintech. “It will also have room for online brokers like us that play a more laid-back, complementing role behind big banks.”

Tiger took part in 26 Chinese firm IPOs in the U.S. last year, while Futu was involved in half of such American depository receipts deals. Their involvement helped a record 36 Chinese firms go public in the U.S. even amid souring relations between the world’s two largest economies, threats of delistings and restrictions on investments.

The online brokers are reaping the benefits of building relationships with some of China’s hottest firms at an early stage. Part of this was providing employees with accounts to manage a growing popularity among Chinese startups to issue stock options before they list, said Alice Liu, a Shanghai-based assistant portfolio manager at Zheshang Fund Management Co.

The brokers helped take public the Guangzhou-based electric vehicle maker XPeng in August, a deal led by Credit Suisse Group AG. They provided services on trading, employee stock plans and rolled out creative public campaigns -- work that global banks either aren’t equipped to offer or don’t bother to undertake, said Brian Gu, vice chairman at XPeng.

“The services bulge bracket banks and online brokers provide are very complementary,” said Gu, who was chairman of Asia Pacific investment banking at JPMorgan Chase & Co. before he joined the firm in 2018.

Both Futu and Tiger now have more than 1 million brokerage clients, providing trading flows and the cachet to get in on more deals. In early September, for example, when a selloff in tech stocks roiled U.S. markets, Futu clients contributed to almost $1 billion in trading in Tesla Inc. alone in a single day, or 2% of the total transaction value on the stock, according to Dennis Wu, a senior partner at Futu.

The large flows they can direct also make them a good fit in a post-IPO environment. Futu’s trading surged almost four-fold from a year earlier to surpass HK$1 trillion ($129 billion) in the third quarter, with U.S. stock trading contributing about 56%, the company’s filings showed.

“Even for the star IPOs that are not short of subscriptions our platform’s trading volume in the secondary market helps stabilize prices after listing,” Futu’s Wu said.

However, the easy pickings for these firms may now lose momentum. The growing tension between the U.S. and China, which has even seen Xiaomi blacklisted, could crimp the deal pipeline ahead, according to Liu. As most of the prominent firms in China’s new economy sector have listed, there are fewer blockbuster deals that will favor online brokers in sight, she said.

It’s easy to overstate their competitive threat, said XPeng’s Gu, The online brokers lack the long-standing relations bigger banks have with institutional investors and don’t have enough clout on a number of issues, including pricing, he said.

Despite having several bumper years, online brokers’ deal value is still only a fraction of the biggest banks. Credit Suisse topped the global equity IPO table last year with $22.3 billion in mandates while China International Capital Corp. had $14.9 billion compared with Futu’s $600 million.

China’s Tech Giants Are Muscling In on Lucrative IPO Market

For now, Wu at Futu said that they are more comfortable being seen as a technology firm rather than a broker and remain intent on being recruited as a sidekick for global banks in the IPO underwriting market.

“Banks need to ask themselves what kind of differentiated service they can bring to the table to earn a role,” said Liu at Zheshang Fund.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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