More Chinese firms are saying goodbye to Singapore's stock market

Key Points
  • More Chinese companies listed in Singapore, or S-chips, are exiting the SGX.
  • S-chips led the Singapore IPO scene about a decade ago, but their reputation was tarnished by a few accounting scandals.
  • SGX said the departures have not affected its appeal and Chinese firms continue to list in Singapore.

Among departures from the Singapore Exchange (SGX) over the past year, a number of companies stood out for these common characteristics: they come from China and were among mainland firms that contributed to the flurry of initial public offerings in the city state about a decade ago.

Chinese companies listed in Singapore, known as S-chips, led the local IPO market from 2005 to 2007 before such listings came to a halt in mid-2012. In recent months, those firms have left the SGX in greater numbers voluntarily or after failing to meet listing requirements, according to exchange filings compiled by CNBC.

CNBC found that six of the 10 firms that delisted from the exchange this year are Chinese firms, compared to eight who did so the whole of last year.

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Real estate developer China New Town Development, which delisted from SGX in February but remain listed in Hong Kong, said exiting Singapore will lead to savings in compliance costs and management resources.

"A single listing may help to consolidate the trading of the shares and lead to further liquidity, which would broaden the shareholder base and enhance the attraction of the company as an investment target. Such liquidity is typically an important consideration for market indices in determining their constituent stocks," the firm said in a statement.

Max Loh, EY managing partner for Asean and Singapore, said it makes sense for companies such as China New Town Development to build product and brand recognition closer to their home market. He also noted that S-chips may not have seen the interest they were seeking from investors in Singapore.

"There is the perception that they are not garnering sufficient value and interest from investors on the SGX. In addition, the historical unfavorable experiences with certain S-chip companies continue to cast a pall over the entire slate of companies in this space," he said.

Loh was referring to the accounting fraud and other corporate scandals among a few S-chips that rocked the Singapore stock market in the early 2010s, tarnishing the reputation of Chinese companies, which saw their share prices collapsing in the aftermath of the episode.

Questionable corporate governance and accounting practices have since led to the SGX placing many S-chips on its watch list for close monitoring. Several firms were subsequently asked to delist after failing to meet listing requirements.

"The exchange will take action if the company does not satisfy the minimum financial performance over a certain period of time… In addition, since bearish market generally happens with poor economic performance, financial performance of these companies also will be poor. Thus, these companies may decide to delist and go private," said Sundaram Janakiramanan, a finance professor at Singapore University of Social Sciences.

SGX: We are the most international exchange

That episode also resulted in the slowdown in the number of IPOs by Chinese firms, which favored Hong Kong over Singapore. But the growing list of Chinese firms leaving the SGX has not affected the appeal of the city state's capital market, said SGX CEO Loh Boon Chye. He said the exchange remains one of the most international exchanges globally with around 40 percent of listed firms coming from outside Singapore.

Companies from China have also returned to list on the SGX, noted the exchange's equities and fixed income head, Chew Sutat.

There are over 100 S-Chips out of some 800 stocks listed in Singapore.

"There have been some smaller-name companies that have been delisted, but just in the last half year, we've had EC World REIT, China Jinjiang Environment Holding, Dasin Retail Trust and each of them is between half and a billion (Singapore dollars) in market cap, which is far larger than those delisted in the last half year," Chew said.

Correction: This article has been updated to accurately reflect the market capitalization of recently-listed S-chips.