Baidu, China’s search engine, entertainment and AI giant, Friday published detailed plans for its secondary share listing in Hong Kong which will bring in some $3.6 billion of fresh capital.
The same day, finance industry sources are reporting that Chinese video entertainment group Bilibili has been given the green light by regulators for its planned share sale. The Bloomberg news agency says Bilibili will seek $3 billion.
Both Baidu and Bilibili have their primary listings on the NASDAQ exchange in North America. But with the China-U.S. trade war showing few signs of abating, despite the change of American government, many Chinese conglomerates fear being delisted and are seeking access to capital markets closer to home. Still other firms have delisted in North America and plan to relist in Asia in order to obtain a more favorable rating.
With easier easy access for mainland Chinese investors, the Hong Kong stock market has become a major IPO and fund-raising hub for tech firms. Short video firm Kuaishou recently floated itself at HK$115 per share and now, after a 165% gain inside a month, commands a HK$1.29 billion market capitalization with shares closed Friday at HK$304 apiece. Bilibili which has a smaller user base, and smaller losses than Kuaishou, is currently valued at $49 billion.
Baidu is to raise HK$28 billion ($3.6 billion) through the sale of 95 million shares, equivalent to only 3.4% of its total equity. It announced a price of H$295, which is 12% higher than its most recent price in the U.S., but the prospectus makes it clear that the global part of the offer could be priced higher and that in case of strong demand it could issue more stock. The share will begin trading in Hong Kong on March 23.
Baidu said that the bulk of the proceeds will be applied to the commercialization of its AI technology and its autonomous driving business Apollo. Some will go to upgrading its Baidu app.
The 550-page prospectus has choice details on other matters too, including commentary on China’s regulatory environment and the company’s planned acquisition of the YY Live, the Chinese domestic activities of live-streamer Joyy. Baidu appears to have accepted the word of Joyy’s auditors that fraud allegations made by short seller Muddy Waters “were not substantiated,” and says that it will go ahead with the deal. But Baidu also warns potential that the deal could bring class action suits or regulatory action.
Baidu made no suggestion that it would sell its controlling stake in iQIYI, the video streaming platform that has lost its market leadership in China and remains loss-making after eleven years in business. It was reported last year that preliminary sale talks were held with rivals Alibaba and Tencent. (Baidu was once seen as part of a tech leadership triumvirate, dubbed BAT, but in recent years it has lost ground to Alibaba and Tencent.)
On the wider regulation of the Chinese tech industry the prospectus explains that the State Administration for Market Regulation’s February “Anti-Monopoly Guidelines for Internet Platforms mainly covers five aspects, including general provisions, monopoly agreements, abusing market dominance, concentration of undertakings, and abusing of administrative powers eliminating or restricting competition.
These prohibit monopolistic acts “including without limitation, prohibiting platforms with dominant position from abusing their market dominance (such as discriminating customers in terms of pricing and other transactional conditions using big data and analytics, coercing counterparties into exclusivity arrangements, using technology means to block competitors’ interface, favorable positioning in search results of goods displays, using bundle services to sell services or products, compulsory collection of unnecessary user data).”
And, given the fluidity of the current situation Baidu warns: “We cannot assure you that our business operations comply with such regulations and authorities’ requirements in all respects.”
Indeed, both the prospectus and a regulatory notice on Friday confirmed that Baidu is one of 12 firms to receive fines of RMB500,000 ($77,000) each for doing merger and acquisition deals without giving advanced notice to the SAMR.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Chinese regulators are contemplating a record fine – perhaps as large as $1 billion – against Alibaba for anti-competitive practices.