Asia stocks rally on

HONG KONG: Large investors are taking advantage of Asia’s record-smashing bull market to pocket some profits through a series of share placements. That’s not stopping the run in those stocks, which include a number of Chinese drugmakers and a South Korean fuel cell company.

Sales by big shareholders, often seen as a signal that stock prices are peaking, seem to be losing their sway in an era of unprecedented global monetary stimulus.

The MSCI Asia Pacific Index has continued to hit new records this month even as stakeholders took home US$3.5bil by selling shares – more than in any other full January period since 2015 – data compiled by Bloomberg show.Shares of 10 of the 13 companies that saw secondary sales during the month are trading above their offer prices now, the data show. Take Chinese health-care company Wuxi Biologics Cayman Inc, for example.

Its stock fell briefly after its parent sold US$1.27bil in shares at a discount but then surged to a record high. It is now up 26% from the offer price.

Smaller Chinese drugmakers too have been resilient. Hong Kong-listed Innovent Biologics Inc and InnoCare Pharma Ltd are trading 9.6% and 4.3% higher than the respective prices at which their holders sold shares.

“Market sentiment is very strong, ” said Steven Leung, an executive director at UOB Kay Hian (Hong Kong) Ltd.

Selling by major shareholders “used to be a good indicator, but since last year, it has been less so.”

“With ongoing ultra-loose monetary policy, expectations for a new fiscal package in the United States and positive growth data from China, equity capital markets remain attractive, on a secular basis, for China issuers and investors, ” said Francesco Lavatelli, head of equity capital markets, Asia Pacific, at JPMorgan Chase & Co.

“This feeds through secondary share sales as capital is being redeployed, particularly by early-stage investors, ” he said.

Shares of South Korea’s Doosan Fuel Cell Co closed at 62,500 won on Friday.

That’s more than 21% above the price of 51,500-won each at which 10 members of the owner family sold 5.33 million shares in a block trade on Jan 5. Doosan’s stock surged 522% in 2020.

Secondary share sales in Asia have boomed after equity markets recovered from the pandemic selloff seen early last year, with large shareholders selling almost US$64bil worth of existing shares in 2020, the most in eight years.

Yet, the MSCI Asia Pacific gauge rallied 17% in its best annual performance since 2017.

The regional benchmark is now trading at a 12-month forward earnings multiple of around 18 times, the most expensive level since 2009.

Some investors see such high valuations, along with rising bond yields and commodity prices, as posing a threat to Asia’s rally.

This month, almost 80% of the number of share sales in Asia have been in Hong Kong, as the financial hub benefits from a massive inflow of Chinese money.

The value of equity sold by shareholders of high-flying biotechnology companies accounts for 41% of Asia’s total. Consumer-services companies, another cohort that’s managed to grow during the pandemic, have also seen investors cashing out. A stakeholder of Haidilao International Holding Ltd, a Chinese hotpot chain, raised US$608mil.

“Issuers have been keen to monetise an environment that is allowing for follow-on transactions being priced tightly on the back of strong fundamental demand and yet staging a positive after-market performance, ” said Alex Abagian, co-head of Asia Pacific equity capital markets at Morgan Stanley, referring to placements done at narrow discounts.

The bank has underwritten many of this year’s share sales. — Bloomberg

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