Business / View

Beware of speculating on Wanda's privatization

By Qing Hao ( Updated: 2016-04-22 17:19

Wang Jianlin, Asia's richest man, never ceases to amaze us. Looking at how he made his fortune, you could tell his business move is extremely agile. Reading his each move is like watching the flower through the clouds, and not until the very end could one tell where he is heading.

His sudden announcement to privatise the Hong Kong-listed flagship, Wanda Commercial Properties Co Ltd, is yet another unexpected move. It is said that his announcement is brought up by the sluggishness in the H-share market, and going back to the A-share market will lead to a significant appreciation in valuation. Judging from Wang’s history, this simple reasoning could turn out to be wrong. Note that previously, in order to get the shares listed on the A-share market, Wanda Commercial had taken years to make preparations. In the end, Wang suddenly turned to Hong Kong. The company was listed there within less than half a year, becoming the biggest IPO of that year in Hong Kong.

This move in foregoing A-shares and turning to H-shares shocked the market. And now, just 15 months after the IPO, it is taking on a completely new direction – delisting from the Hong Kong market.

Nevertheless, this move is reflective of Wang's style: never bound by any established rules. If there is profit to be made, a decision made in the morning can be changed by the night. This is what has been driving Wanda from a nameless company into a multinational giant within just 30 years – flexible decision-making.

Rumours are spreading that Wanda is set to buy back its shares, regardless of the costs. As long as the shares are rising, Wang will be forced to increase his purchase price. People who make such a judgment do not understand Wang's way of doing business. If the share price is pushed above the announced privatisation target of HK$48, increasing the buy-back costs, will Wang still insist on doing it? Will the history of foregoing A-shares and turning to H-shares repeat itself?

In addition to Wang's shifting mood, more importantly, the rising share price could also invite funds to short the stock. It is not difficult for hedge funds to group with institutional shareholders and veto the privatisation plan. A hedge fund could build their short positions before the vote and spread rumours that Wang is determined to do the privatisation at any cost, thus attracting individual investors and boosting the share price. The fund will benefit if the plan is vetoed and the share price tumbles.

The market is showing signs that there are funds that are willing to take the bet. One week after the announcement of privatisation, the short ratio of Wanda Commercial stayed between 4-8 percent. By this week, the short ratio has risen to double digits, reaching 30 percent at the highest. Does this mean that the funds are waiting for the stock price to fall and reap profit?

The author is an economic commentator from Hong Kong.

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