World / Reporter's Journal

Some bad apples don't spoil the whole bunch of IPOs in US

By Zhang Yuwei (China Daily USA) Updated: 2014-07-01 11:38

Some bad apples don't spoil the whole bunch of IPOs in US

In September 2011, Li Yonghui, founder and CEO of AutoChina International Ltd, received a notice from the Nasdaq stock market informing him that the company would be delisted that month.

Li was not surprised by or "too concerned" about the result, he recalled. That notice was followed by an earlier investigation carried out by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in April.

The SEC filed a civil lawsuit against AutoChina, alleging that the company and its 11 investors artificially boosted trading in the then Nasdaq-listed firm's stock to make it look more active.

That year, a number of US-listed Chinese firms were taken down by reports from short sellers who accused them of using reverse merger - which enables a company to become publicly traded by buying a listed shell company - to list in the US. Like many Chinese firms, AutoChina was unable to provide the auditing reports by the time Nasdaq requested them.

"I knew that whatever would come at that point, we will just go through it," he said in a phone interview on Monday from Shijiazhuang, a northern Chinesecity where AutoChina is based.

Li and AutoChina have gone through three years to deal with this case. Last Monday, the company reached an agreement with the SEC to settle the lawsuit with the company paying a $4.35 million penalty to the commission.

"If it were three years ago when the case just broke, I'd feel perhaps a little unfair, but then I understand that the SEC just carried out its responsibilities and do what they needed to do," said Li. "I accept it and am ready to move on after all of this."

Josef Schuster, founder of Chicago-based IPOX Schuster LLC, a research firm specializing in financial products related to global initial public offerings (IPOs), said those investigations have helped improve transparency concerning some of the Chinese companies.

"The result will eventually lead to more scrutiny and better quality of respective deals. This should be in the interest of the retail and institutional investor over the long-run," Schuster said.

Li said the case was complicated by the lack of understanding from both sides - how different the business culture in the US and China and how the two countries have different business practices. "They (the US authorities and investors) may think many Chinese companies are forging accounts - while it may be true in some Chinese firms - it cannot reflect the whole picture and drag other companies with good practices into the trouble," Li said.

Schuster said it's key to comply with the local practice for foreign firms listed in the US. "If the respective firms seek to maintain a listing in the US, they will need to comply, no matter what the cultural background/environment of the firm is."

Li tries to see some "positive" lesson out of AutoChina's experience in this.

"The process has helped get rid of some 'bad apples' although it's a long, unfortunate one for our company, which had to pay the price," Li said.

Founded in 2005, AutoChina is China's largest commercial vehicle sales, servicing, leasing, and support network. The company owns and operates more than 300 commercial vehicle financing and service centers across China and primarily provides sales-type leasing and support services for local customers."Our business in China has been growing well and we look into expanding to stronger e-commerce services in China," said Li.

Li, 52, immigrated to Canada in 1996. He has been investing in the North American market and was one of the early Chinese investors in the Silicon Valley before the dot-com bubble occurred in 2000.

Following the settlement on this case, Li hopes to move on in the US market when the time is right.

"Relisting and going private could be the possibilities," he said. "I still have faith in the US market, but this experience has given me a different perspective of this promising market for investment," he added.

Meantime, Chinese IPOs have started to come back into the US stock market. The first months this year have seen a pickup in Chinese IPOs in the US. Recent Chinese IPOs include job-seeking website on the Nasdaq and, China's largest online beauty products retailer, on the New York Stock Exchange. Both exchanges have said that the number of the Chinese IPOs will total around 20 this year.

"I am sure investors and exchanges will be willing to take a look, depending really on the quality of the company, including revenue growth, profitability and use of proceeds," Schuster said.

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