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Singapore not ready for 'radical' IPOs like Snap, says local exchange

Snap's controversial "no vote" shares have spurred a debate over the merits of dual-class stocks, and the Singapore Exchange (SGX) — which is striving to become the first Asian market to allow such a structure — said it would not consider a listing as "radical" as Snap.

In an interview with CNBC, SGX's head of capital market development Mohamed Nasser Ismail said the proposed Singapore system calls for some regulatory control and safeguards of investors' rights.

"I don't think what we have envisaged for dual-class share structure is until that extent, where investors are merely financial investors and have no say in the direction of the company. We're not there yet. We're not the U.S. market that has other mechanisms for regulating corporate excesses like class action suits," he told CNBC on Monday.

"So, an offering like Snap is not something that would be considered here, not at this time. It's pretty radical," he added.

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SGX, known as a stable stock exchange with strength in business trusts and REITs, is forced to look for new ways to boost listings and trading after a penny stock crash in 2013 dented confidence. That episode wiped out 8 billion Singapore dollars ($5.74 billion) in market value and contributed to a slowdown in IPOs.

With the rise of entrepreneurship and technology start-ups in Southeast Asia, the exchange put forth a slew of proposals, including dual-class shares, in an attempt to enhance its appeal to such firms. Technology companies often opt to list in Australia or the U.S. over Singapore.

But the proposal invited criticisms, no thanks to the controversies surrounding Snap's decision to offer "no vote" shares in its IPO.

In a Financial Times commentary earlier this month, Aberdeen Asset Management Asia's corporate governance head David Smith wrote that SGX risks triggering a "global race to the bottom" in diluting investor rights if it allows such structure.

Nasser, however, said the proposal is not set in stone yet and the SGX would "listen carefully" to opinions of the public on this topic.

"Well, we proposed it, (but) I don't know what the outcome will be, frankly… What the market thinks of this matters a lot, not so much my opinions," he said when asked whether the SGX wishes for the proposal to go through.

Competition for IPOs intensifies

Regional exchanges have upped their game in luring start-ups to list, including the set-up of a platform to trade in start-ups in Thailand and an incubator program in Indonesia to point young companies toward the IPO route.

Recognizing that competition is steep, Nasser, who also leads SGX's effort in the tech and start-up scene, said his team has started engaging companies early in hopes of steering them to list on the exchange when they are ready.

When asked whether such efforts would soon yield results, Nasser declined to give specifics but said he is optimistic the number of tech companies listed on the SGX would grow beyond the current 84 this year.

"SGX is well known for our listing standards, high regulation standards and expectations on all listed companies. (Such a reputation) matters (for companies) when they're looking for new business partners and going into new markets," Nasser said.

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