(Yicai Global) Feb. 27 -- Struggling Chinese biotech firms are rejoicing after the Hong Kong Stock Exchange unveiled a draft of its reform listing program that could take effect as early as April this year, two months ahead of schedule.
The amendments allow firms with weighted voting rights structures and unprofitable biotech companies that develop medicine, biopharmaceuticals or biomedical equipment to list on the bourse, with an ultimate aim of accommodating companies from emerging sectors.
"We have contacted Hong Kong-based brokers and investors and although our company isn't profitable, we'll be bringing a series of new core drugs to the market," a board secretary for a Beijing-based biopharmaceutical firm listed on National Equities Exchange and Quotations, also known as the New Third Board, told Yicai Global.
There are over 200 companies listed on the New Third Board with stock abbreviations containing the phrase 'bio' or 'biology.' The exchange's market-making index has been declining since mid-2015, but there are still 10 biotech firms with a market cap over CNY500 million (USD79 million), five of which are worth over CNY1.5 billion.
"Everybody in our WeChat group of directors, supervisors and senior management is excited," the secretary added. "We want to go public in Hong Kong so we can really move the company toward a globalized market. Our valuation there may not be as high as on the mainland market, but the Hong Kong bourse is more mature and standardized."
Biotech companies are more vulnerable to money shortages and have a greater need for capital, said Sang Huiqing, chairman of Shanghai Benemae Pharmaceutical Corp. If there is no long-term investment, they will struggle to development. The Hong Kong exchange's new policy has great appeal to the biotech firms currently listed on the New Third Board, he added.
"The New Third Board is not very liquid, not a lot of big money comes in because there is no clear exit mechanism," Sang added. "But biotech companies face international competition, the year innovating from the same starting point and to the same standards as foreign companies, but their efforts will be wasted without timely investment."
Huang Lin, senior economist at Soochow Securities, suggested the New Third Board allows companies with a weighted voting right structure to list, so it can retain more innovative startups rather than watch them flock to Hong Kong.
Even though it is now allowing loss-making firms, the bourse still has restrictions for biotech companies looking to list there. Companies will need to have at least one core product that has passed the concept development phase, have a market value of HKD1.5 billion (USD192 million) or more and use the funds from the initial public offering primarily to take their primary product to market.