By Ciara Linnane, MarketWatch
Futu Holdings Ltd., a Hong Kong–based online brokerage that is backed by Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings Ltd., has become the first big Asian initial public offerings of 2019.
The company priced the deal late Thursday at $12 a share, the top end of its $10 to $12 range. Shares soared 40% when they started trading on the Nasdaq exchange under the ticker symbol “FHL.” The company sold 7.5 million American Depositary Shares in the deal to raise $90 million.
Goldman Sachs, UBS and Credit Suisse were underwriters on the deal. Proceeds will be used for general corporate purposes, including research and development, to fund working capital and to cover increased regulatory capital requirements in Hong Kong and other jurisdictions, according to the preliminary prospectus.
Futu has enjoyed strong growth in recent years, growing its staff to 561 employees at the end of September. It has close ties to Tencent /zigman2/quotes/204605823/delayed HK:700 -0.11% /zigman2/quotes/207908563/delayed TCEHY -1.11% : Chief Executive Leaf Hua Li, Futu’s founder, was the 18th founding employee of Tencent, while Chief Technology Officer Ppchen Weihua Chen was a senior technology expert at Tencent. The company had revenue of HK$584 million ($74.6 million) in the nine months ending in September, up from HK$178 million in the year-earlier period. It posted its first profit, of HK$100 million, for the period, after a loss of HK$38 million in the year-earlier period.
The company generates revenue in the form of commissions and handling charges from its online brokerage, and interest income from its margin financing and securities lending services, interest income from bank deposits and interest income from IPO financing, where it arranges the financing for clients. The company is benefiting from the emergence of a mass affluent class in China that has driven strong demand for wealth-management services.
The U.S. market was popular with Chinese companies in 2018, when 32 of them listed, the highest number in nine years, according to Kathleen Smith, a principal at Renaissance Capital, a provider of IPO exchange-traded funds. Many turned to the U.S. because their home stock market was faring badly, she said. The Shanghai Composite ended the year down about 25%, its worst annual performance since 2008, the peak of the financial crisis. The Shenzhen Composite fell 33%, and the Hang Seng declined about 14%.
But the average return for the 32 U.S.-listed companies was negative 12%, underperforming the broader IPO market, which was showing a negative return of 1.9%.
For more read: The current tech bubble is a Chinese import
“This poor relative performance of Chinese IPOs in the U.S. market in 2018 and weak performance of brokerage stocks in general could make investors valuation sensitive about the Futu IPO,” said Smith. “However, investors will likely be interested in it...because of the extraordinary growth in its business and its profitability.”
Since it was launched in 2012, Futu has grown its user base to 5.3 million and boasts more than 457,000 registered clients, defined as users who have opened trading accounts, and more than 124,000 paying clients, defined as clients with assets in their trading accounts. The company allows mainland China investors to trade stocks in Hong Kong and the U.S.
In the first six months of 2018, the company brokered HK$478.2 billion in client trades, according to its prospectus.