Chinese artificial intelligence (AI) company SenseTime has seen its share price jump more than 20% on its first day of trading on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (HKEX). This was good news at last for China’s most valuable AI company following a series of unfortunate events. Previously, the company had decided to slash its initial public offering (IPO) price by 60% amid China’s tech crackdown. In addition, it was forced to postpone its debut due to concerns over US sanctions.
SenseTime’s shares climbed by 23% to 4.74 Hong Kong dollars (US$0.61) after going on the market on Thursday. The firm ended up raising 6.64bn Hong Kong dollars (US$851m), initially pricing its shares at 3.85 Hong Kong dollars (US$0.49) each, at the bottom of the range it had set, which gave the startup a valuation of 138bn Hong Kong dollars (US$17.7bn).
Shares ended the day at 4.13 Hong Kong dollars, up 7.3% from its IPO price. It was the fifth most actively traded stock by turnover with 329.97 million shares exchanged worth 1.406bn Hong Kong dollars (US$180bn).
The broader Hang Seng Index gained 0.11%, while HKEX tech stocks were marginally positive on the day.
The positive IPO shows that investors were willing to look past the dual impact of China’s crackdown on its tech industry and the US’ stricter stance against Chinese firms, which can mean that they have difficulties accessing key items of technology and finance from the USA. However, SenseTime’s success on the day was still well down compared to its initial ambitious IPO plans.
Identified as the world’s most valuable AI company by data analytics firm GlobalData, SenseTime had initially planned to raise up to US$2bn in its IPO. However, given Beijing’s aggressive clampdown on the tech industry, the startup decided to cut its IPO price by 62%, aiming to raise US$768m.
Earlier this month, coinciding with the firm’s original IPO date, the US announced that it would place SenseTime on an investment blacklist, blocking Americans from investing in the business. This came on top of SenseTime’s previous entry onto the so-called Entity List, which restricts it from gaining access to key American technology.
Following this news, SenseTime decided to postpone its IPO. However, plans were swiftly revived after several Chinese state-backed entities stepped up and promised to buy about two-thirds of the shares, with cornerstone investors increasing their pledged amounts from US$450m to US$511.6m.
The most prominent cornerstone investors included the state-backed Mixed-Ownership Reform Fund, which bought US$200m worth of shares, and the Shanghai local government fund Xuhui Capital, which purchased US$150m worth of shares.
This shows that SenseTime – which specialises in deep learning technology used in various industries, including autonomous driving, smart cities, edtech, healthtech and facial recognition – remains a vital player in Beijing’s ambitions to achieve technology supremacy. Though there has been some talk of an approaching “AI winter” in the West, it would seem there are no signs of autumn yet in Beijing.
SenseTime is also one of China’s four largest AI startups, collectively known as the four “AI Dragons”. The other three, Megvii, Cloudwalk and Yitu Technology, have not yet gone public, although Megvii and Cloudwalk have both filed for an IPO.
SenseTime is not yet profitable, but it does hold an 11% share in China’s computer vision software industry, a sector that is likely to grow exponentially over the next several years. SenseTime is the biggest player in this market, which is expected to reach 101.7bn yuan (US$16bn) by 2025, a 44% increase, according to SenseTime’s IPO prospectus.
The firm’s addition to the US Commerce Department’s Entity List and the list of “Chinese military-industrial complex companies” were due to its alleged implication in “human rights violations and abuses in the implementation of China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance” against the Uyghur population, a mostly Muslim ethnic group in the Xinjiang region.
SenseTime denied the allegations, saying:
“We abide by all relevant laws and regulations of the jurisdictions in which we operate. We have been actively developing our AI code of ethics to ensure our technologies are used in a responsible way. In the meantime, we remain focused on protecting the interests of our customers, partners, investors and employees.”