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IPO drought hits swathes of Southeast Asia, Chinese stocks beckon

[KUALA LUMPUR] Initial public offerings have slowed to a trickle in parts of Southeast Asia as the absence of mega deals and volatile currencies sapped sentiment. The smaller pool of offerings may push investors to bull markets such as China, fund managers say.

In Singapore, IPO proceeds total US$12.5 million so far this year, suggesting a big gap with 2014 when US$2.56 billion was raised during the year. Singapore's allure has waned as liquidity declined after a penny stocks scandal in 2013. In Malaysia, the hottest Asia-Pacific IPO destination in 2012, IPO proceeds total US$10.9 million, just 1 per cent of what was raised in 2014. Sentiment has cooled as foreign investors trimmed their Malaysia equity portfolios. Weaker oil prices have hit the country's huge energy sector. Malaysia is ahead of the Philippines, where IPO proceeds are nil so far this year.

In contrast, IPO deals in Thailand are surging. Its long-term prospects have not been dimmed by the country's volatile politics. Thailand is also relaxing rules to promote itself as a fundraising hub for companies in neighbouring countries such as Cambodia and Laos. Thai telecommunications group Jasmine International PCL raised 36.7 billion baht (S$1.48 billion) in Southeast Asia's biggest IPO so far this year. That was followed by the US$343 million listing of Indonesian hospital operator Mitra Keluarga Karyasehat Tbk PT .

The mixed picture for Southeast Asian IPOs and historically high stock valuations do not bode well for the region's equity markets. Valuations have remained lofty, even by China's standards, raising questions over the quality of earnings at a time of slowing economic growth and depreciating currencies. The price-to-earnings ratio in Southeast Asia, at 16.7, is much higher than China's 10.9.

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The valuation gap may narrow in the months ahead as the Chinese markets continue to rally on expectations of more government measures to stimulate the economy. Taking advantage of China's relatively low valuations, investors have poured huge sums of money into mainland stocks, more than doubling the benchmark Shanghai index in the past year. "We run the risk of being sold down to fund a China bull market," Gan Eng Peng, head of equity at Kuala Lumpur-based Affin Hwang Asset Management Bhd, told Reuters. "The returns in China are phenomenal, immediate and do not have currency weakness issue."