X marks the spot as XPeng $1.8bn HK IPO brings EV maker closer to home

By Elles Houweling

Chinese electric vehicle (EV) manufacturer XPeng made its debut on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (HKEX), wrapping up a listing that brings the company closer to investors in China and offers it insurance against the risk of having to delist in the US.

XPeng, which competes with Tesla and other Chinese EV brands such as NIO and Li Auto, raised 14.02bn Hong Kong dollars ($1.8bn) in its Hong Kong initial public offering (IPO) on Wednesday. The company issued 85 million Class A ordinary shares at a price of 165HKD.

Shares opened at 168 HKD, a 1.8% rise. Shortly after, they turned negative and ended the day flat at 165 HKD apiece. Ten months ago, the Chinese EV maker listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), where it raised $1.5bn.

XPeng opted for a dual-primary listing for its Hong Kong float – unlike numerous Chinese companies trading in the US, for example, Alibaba and Net Ease, which have sold shares through secondary listings. This means that XPeng has to follow Hong Kong disclosure and corporate governance standards more closely.

A dual-primary listing allows the company to list in Hong Kong more quickly than if it had placed a secondary listing. This also makes XPeng eligible for Stock Connect, a trading link with mainland China.

“I would say our Hong Kong listing is a very strategic decision. In it, I think obviously, you know, hedging against geopolitical risks is only one of the considerations,” Brian Gu, president of Xpeng, told CNBC.

“But in the long run, though, we would like to have a listing venue that gets us closer to home because we’re a consumer brand in China. Ultimately we want our customers to be our shareholders, and having the dual primary listing status in Hong Kong will give us eligibility to be connected to Chinese capital markets.”

XPeng’s decision comes at a time of heightened scrutiny for Chinese companies wishing to trade on US exchanges. Earlier this year, the US Securities and Exchange Commission adopted rules that impose stricter auditing requirements on foreign firms listed in the US.

Meanwhile, Chinese regulators are also closing in on companies deciding to debut abroad, notably in the US. Following Didi’s spectacular removal from Chinese app stores merely days after its New York IPO, China’s State Council said on Tuesday that it would continue its crackdown that has spanned everything from property debt and fintech to antitrust issues and now cybersecurity.

US IPO? Chinese companies might want to think twice

Besides Didi, other Chinese tech companies listed in the US – for instance, Full Truck Alliance and Zhipin.com – are also being investigated for suspected violations of China’s national security and cybersecurity laws.

“The regulator claims that actions like Didi’s lead to leakages of Chinese data to hostile powers,” said Michael Orme, GlobalData analyst and China specialist. “It all underlines the deep-set and rising power of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) over the economy and the extent to which this increasingly centralised regime under attack by weaponised US chip IP, is prepared to undermine the growth of its tech sector for the sake of ‘national security’.”

US exchanges remain a popular choice for Chinese entrepreneurs, especially in the tech industry, despite efforts by Beijing to encourage companies to list back home, including Hong Kong.

However, Beijing’s latest crackdown on the tech sector threatens to chill investor sentiment at a time when there are as many as 34 pending filings for the US listings by firms based in China or Hong Kong announced this year, according to Bloomberg. Such deals have been running at a record pace, with more than $15bn priced in New York IPOs so far this year.

China’s move could prompt homegrown tech firms traded in the US to reconsider their listings. Weibo chairman Charles Chao and a state investor are in talks to take Weibo private, Reuters reported on Tuesday, citing people familiar with the matter.

Beijing may also be seeking to close loopholes that allow Chinese firms to list overseas without approval if they are incorporated offshore. Many technology firms, including Tencent and Alibaba, are registered in places such as the Cayman Islands or the British Virgin Islands.

China has recently made cybersecurity one of its top priorities. Last month, China’s main legislature, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPC), passed a new Data Security Law aimed at protecting national cybersecurity.

The latest move in this ongoing endeavour is the new Data Regulations introduced in the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone on Tuesday, which aims to boost personal information protection and build up a robust public data system. It is the first data protection law passed by a local government in China.