Hong Kong (CNN Business)One of China’s major stock markets is making it easier for tech startups to go public. It’s yet another way the country is trying to promote homegrown champions as its tech war with the United States continues to escalate.
ChiNext, a Nasdaq-like board on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange, has debuted new rules that allow companies to participate in an IPO registration system akin to how public listings work in the United States.
Eighteen Chinese companies — all small-to-medium sized tech firms — took advantage of the new rules and began trading Monday. By market close, their stocks had popped more than 200% on average. A medical equipment manufacturer called Contec Medical Systems soared more than 1000%, leading the gains.
Previously, companies often had to wait months or even years for meetings with top regulators before they could hope to list on ChiNext. Now, those regulators have delegated much of that responsibility to the Shenzhen Stock Exchange, which significantly reduces the wait and gives issuers and investors greater control over the pricing and timing of IPOs.
The stocks that began trading Monday will continue to trade without any limit to how much their prices can fluctuate through the rest of the week. Existing stocks, meanwhile, can now trade on ChiNext within a band of 20% in either direction, double what was allowed previously.
“We hope the ChiNext board will better serve growing innovative and entrepreneurial enterprises,” China’s Vice Premier Liu He in a statement Monday that was read aloud by Yi Huiman, chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, at a ceremony celebrating the new listings. He added that the ChiNext reforms could pave the way for further changes to other stock exchanges. “We hope it will support more quality companies to list on the domestic stock market.”
The rules that took effect Monday illustrate how Beijing is trying to relax its controls on capital markets and prevent tech firms from going overseas. Last year, the Shanghai Stock Exchange debuted a Nasdaq-style board called the Star Market that it hoped would help China’s high-tech companies tap into the vast wealth held by local investors. More than 150 companies trade on that board, with a market cap totaling more than $422 billion.
“As the rivalry between China and the US in the technology sector is escalating, China needs this reform [on ChiNext] to be successful,” Hao Hong, managing director and head of research at BOCOM International, wrote in a Monday research note. “After all, technological leadership will require funding — and a lot of it.”
He suggested, though, that it was too early to tell how successful the reforms will be. Beijing still exercises a lot of control over its markets, and the value of the stocks might be overinflated at first.
“Given that the ChiNext reform is a significant part of China’s grand competition strategy with the US, conventional wisdom would want to see good initial performance as a boost of national confidence,” Hong said. “The [government’s] ‘visible hand’ will likely intervene, should the situation require.”
China isn’t just using its domestic markets to support tech stocks. Hong Kong’s leading index compiler announced the creation of a new benchmark last month to track tech firms. And the city’s Hang Seng Index (HSI), the main benchmark, will also soon add major tech stocks, such as Alibaba (BABA).
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