[HONG KONG] China's market for initial public offerings is the hottest it's ever been, thanks to the securities regulator.
The 62 new stocks that have completed their first month of trading this year soared 420 per cent on average in the span, the steepest such rally on record, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
For a clue as to why: the average size of this year's offerings has dwindled to US$88 million, the smallest since 2005.
While huge returns on mainland IPOs aren't new, the numbers are getting even more eye-watering as the China Securities Regulatory Commission seeks to stabilize the nation's US$6.1 trillion equity market.
Officials asked arrangers and companies to limit their deal sizes in the first half to avoid an oversupply of shares, according to people with knowledge of the matter, and a proposed registration system that would have given firms more flexibility on IPO pricing and timing has been delayed.
The Shanghai Composite Index is down 16 per cent in 2016, one of the world's biggest declines.
"Regulators are carefully watching and testing market reactions as they approve IPOs," said Dai Ming, a money manager at Hengsheng Asset Management Co in Shanghai.
"They tend to tighten approvals when the market slumps and release more deals when sentiment improves."
More than 800 companies have filed IPO applications and are waiting for approval, according to the CSRC's website.
The 78 completed sales this year compares with 219 in all of 2015, and the value of the deals is about a quarter of the 2015 amount, Bloomberg data show.
Wuxi Honghui New Materials Technology Co was one of the lucky ones, raising US$39 million in June. The shares soared 553 per cent in their first month on the Shenzhen exchange, and are now up 580 per cent from their IPO price.
The company is typical of Chinese IPOs in that it priced at a multiple below the market average - nearly all initial shares sold in the past two years were valued at less than 23 times profit, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Wuxi Honghui's listing valuation of 22.98 times earnings compares to an average multiple of 43.3 for firms in the chemical products industry, the company said in a June 17 filing.
The stock climbed 2.2 per cent at the close, while the Shanghai Composite added 0.1 per cent.
"Investing in A-share IPOs is highly profitable because regulators keep prices low," said Hao Hong, chief strategist at Bocom International Holdings Co in Hong Kong.
"The odds of winning initial shares are falling as returns surge." For the 13 stocks that started trading last month, the average chance for a retail investor to be allocated any shares in an offering was 0.04 per cent, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
The CSRC has been signaling a tougher stance on letting companies list in China, warning brokerages last month to improve their standards when helping clients raise money.
The regulator is also said to be considering measures to curb the flow of overseas-traded Chinese companies seeking backdoor listings on the mainland.
As the market stabilises, the CSRC is set to approve bigger deals for the second half, the people familiar with the matter said. Bank of Jiangsu Co started trading Aug 2 after raising US$1.1 billion in the biggest IPO this year.
China Film Co has raised US$628 million and is waiting for the regulator's green light for a debut slot.
Bank of Jiangsu was the first A-share banking IPO since August 2010, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Lenders that received CSRC's initial approval more than six months ago and are still waiting for a listing slot include Bank of Hangzhou Co, Bank of Shanghai Co, Jiangsu Jiangyin Rural Commercial Bank Co and Bank of Guiyang Co.
Some companies have gone to Hong Kong instead. Postal Savings Bank of China Co, one of the few state-owned giants remaining unlisted, is preparing for an US$8 billion IPO in the former British colony this year.
Bank of Tianjin Co and China Development Bank Financial Leasing Co, which raised a combined US$1.8 billion in Hong Kong initial offerings this year, had both considered A-share listings, separate people with knowledge of the matter said.
While IPO approvals are hard to come by, regulators appear more lenient towards listed companies selling additional shares. Companies have completed 320 additional offerings on the mainland this year, raising US$99 billion. Both the deal count and the fundraising are the second highest in the past decade.
Bocom International's Mr Hong says the outlook for China's IPO market remains in the CSRC's hands.
"The IPO fever will continue if regulators keep delaying a registration system and capping prices," he said.