Hong Kong exchange operator backs decision to halt Ant's record IPO

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong stock exchange, which missed out on the chance to host Ant Group's record US$37 billion listing this month, believed the move to suspend the IPO was the right one and hoped the Chinese fintech giant would come back later, its CEO said on Wednesday.

Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEX), which currently ranks fourth in the IPO league table of global exchanges according to Refinitiv, would have jumped to No. 2 if Ant's dual listing in Hong Kong and Shanghai had gone ahead.

The IPO was thwarted last week when the Shanghai Stock Exchange said it would halt the company's STAR Market listing, prompting Ant to also freeze the Hong Kong leg of the deal.

The market "needed time to fully absorb regulatory changes," Charles Li, chief executive of the Hong Kong bourse, said on an earnings call with the media.

Li did not specify which regulatory changes, but analysts have pointed to a consultation paper issued by the banking watchdogs recommending tightening rules for online micro-lending companies as foreshadowing the regulators' move against Ant.

"When Ant is ready to come back, we stand ready to welcome them back to our market," said Li, who steps down as CEO of the bourse at the end of this year.

HKEX, on Wednesday, reported net profit of HK$3.45 billion (US$445 million), a quarterly record, and a 52% rise from a year earlier, lifted by higher trading revenue and listing fees.

Trading volumes were boosted by a slew of large listings including by New York-listed firms like Netease and KFC China operator Yum China, as well as record turnover on the stock and bond "connect" schemes.

The development of the "connects", which links Hong Kong with the Shanghai and Shenzhen bourses, and reforms to allow secondary listings are among Li's achievements during his 11 year tenure.

High on the agenda of Li's successor would be MSCI A share derivatives, "a long-anticipated missing piece", said Dennis Lam an equities strategist at DBS.

Last year, global index publisher MSCI and HEKX said they would launch futures contracts on the MSCI China A Index, an onshore Chinese benchmark, to provide a hedging tool for international investors, but they have not yet launched.

(Reporting by Alun John; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Elaine Hardcastle)

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