Facing an Image Problem, Chinese Companies Retreat from U.S. Exchanges

Shanghai-based Focus Media’s recent $3.5 billion Nasdaq delisting was the biggest-ever exit from a U.S. stock exchange by a Chinese company. And more departures may follow.


Frustrated by low valuations and investor skepticism, Chinese companies are increasingly considering delisting from U.S. stock exchanges. Shanghai-based advertising firm Focus Media Holding’s exit from the Nasdaq in May through a $3.5 billion buyout was the largest such departure to date. More of the 170-plus Chinese enterprises on U.S. exchanges plan to follow, says Hillel Cohn, a Los Angeles–based corporate attorney with law firm Morrison & Foerster who helped Shanghai-based conglomerate Fosun International, a 17 percent shareholder in Focus, with its portion of the buyout and delisting.

The Focus retreat outstrips that of Shanghai-based online game provider Shanda Interactive, which quit the Nasdaq in 2011 with a $2.3 billion buyout. Since 2009 a total of 24 Chinese corporations have gone private from that exchange and the NYSE, for a combined deal value of $8.9 billion, Dealogic reports. Cohn says his firm is getting regular inquiries from Chinese companies, some of which might relist at home.

On May 23, its last day on the Nasdaq, Focus closed at $27.42, less than half its peak of $65 in 2007, and at a price-earnings ratio of 6.7, far below the 18.55 average for the Nasdaq 100. Short-sellers have targeted Chinese companies since New York–based Muddy Waters Research began investigating them a few years ago. Muddy Waters and some hedge funds allege that poor accounting practices are rampant, especially among corporations that listed in the U.S. through reverse mergers, which entail acquiring a financially troubled public company and bypassing bank underwriting by selling shares directly. “The sentiment against Chinese companies is somewhat irreversible,” says Paul Schulte, a Hong Kong–based former equity strategist for Nomura and now editor of  "Paul Schulte’s Bull’s Eye Report.”


Many businesses have been unfairly tainted, says attorney Cohn, whose firm publishes a guide to help Chinese companies privatize and delist: “There is a recognition in some quarters that there is a need to distinguish between companies that are problematic and those that have solid long-term prospects.”


June’s $79 million IPO of online retailer Light InTheBox, the first by a Chinese company in the U.S. since those of social media platform Y Y and e-tailer Vipshop Holdings last year, is an encouraging sign. As of  June 28, Light InTheBox stock stood at $13.46 on the Nasdaq, a 16 percent increase over its $11.61 closing price on the first day of trading. “If LightInTheBox continues to do well, along with YY and Vipshop, it will bode well for the market,” says Janet Stites, publisher of   New  York–based China Business Knowledge, a website that tracks Chinese companies listed in the U.S.