Evergrande Tycoon’s New Banker Is the ‘Queen of Shell Companies’
(Bloomberg) -- She’s best known as the “Queen of shell companies,” a financier who briefly became Hong Kong’s richest woman by striking deals in some of the wildest corners of the city’s stock market.
Now Pollyanna Chu has a new role: investment banker for embattled China Evergrande Group billionaire Hui Ka Yan.
Chu’s Kingston Securities was the sole manager of two share sales last month by Evergrande’s electric-vehicle unit, helping the company raise more than $400 million despite a liquidity crisis that drove down its stock 90% this year. Kingston also likely played a role in Hui’s sale of a $344 million personal stake in Evergrande last week, according to local media and clearing system data compiled by Bloomberg.
While Hui used major investment banks including UBS Group AG and Haitong Securities for past deals, the property tycoon is turning to Chu’s brokerage for the first time since at least 2016 as he races to avert a collapse of his debt-laden business empire. The shift may partly reflect a wariness by other firms to continue doing Evergrande deals, according to Nigel Stevenson, an analyst at GMT Research in Hong Kong.
Kingston didn’t respond to requests for comment. Representatives at Evergrande’s EV unit and UBS declined to comment. A spokesperson at Haitong wasn’t able to provide an immediate comment.
Chu, whose father managed VIP betting rooms in Macau casinos, is known for her connections to the city’s tycoons. After earning a bachelor’s degree in management from Golden Gate University in the U.S., she co-founded Kingston -- named after her son -- in the early 1990s to help local businesses raise money.
Some of her clients included the so-called “King of Toys,” the billionaire who controls the manufacturer for companies such as Mattel Inc. and Hasbro Inc., and local financier Tak Cheung “TC” Yam, whose firm owns a majority stake in Forbes Media LLC. Chu was part of the consortium of tycoons who bought 75% of The Center tower from billionaire Li Ka-shing in 2018 in the world’s biggest office property deal.
Chu has also been linked to deals at small-cap companies with highly concentrated ownership and wild price swings. In 2019, authorities searched Kingston’s office as part of the biggest investigation of market malfeasance in the city’s history. Kingston hasn’t been accused of any wrongdoing in the case.
The concentrated ownership structure of Kingston’s own parent company prompted a warning from Hong Kong’s securities regulator in 2018 that helped tank the stock. Chu owns 75% of the company, which has lost 95% of its market value in the past four years. Her personal fortune, which stood at almost $12 billion in January 2018, is now no longer large enough to be tracked by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
Chu isn’t the only new face to enter Hui’s orbit. So too were many of the cornerstone investors in Evergrande’s property-services unit IPO last year and the electric-vehicle unit’s $3.4 billion share sale in January. Li Shao Yu, a businesswoman who owns several large stakes in Hong Kong-listed companies, is one of Hui’s newest connections after she bought a $273 million HengTen Networks Group Ltd. stake from Evergrande last month.
At the same time, some of Hui’s usual backers have been exiting their stakes. After spending years helping Hui raise cash for his empire, Chinese Estates Holdings Ltd. and the family behind it have reduced their holding in Evergrande to 2.36% from a peak of almost 9%. China Strategic Holdings Ltd., which started to invest in Evergrande’s EV unit in 2015, sold stock in September.
For both of the recent placements by Evergrande’s EV unit, shares were sold at a discount of more than 15%. The buyers are unknown, but there are at least six independent ones for each sale, according to regulatory filings. Unlike the investors in the January placement, the new ones don’t have a lock-up agreement. Those who bought at the start of the year -- including Chinese Estates’ Chan Hoi-wan -- are sitting on an 89% loss.
The proceeds of the EV unit’s latest share sale will go to research and production of electric vehicles, according to regulatory filings. The company, whose market value has tumbled to $3.9 billion from more than $80 billion at its peak in April, has yet to sell a single car.
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