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CFC’s Latest Research Report Addresses Most Treacherous Issue for Chinese Companies Seeking Domestic IPO

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For Chinese private companies, one obstacle looms largest along the path to an IPO in China: the need to become fully compliant with China’s tax and accounting rules.  This process of becoming “规范” (or “guifan” in Pinyin)  is not only essential for any Chinese company seeking private equity and an eventual IPO, it is also often the most difficult, expensive, and tedious task a Chinese entrepreneur will ever undertake.

More good Chinese companies are shut out from capital markets or from raising private equity because of this “guifan” problem than any other reason. It is also the most persistent challenge for all of us active in the PE industry and in assisting SME to become publicly-traded businesses.

My firm has just published a Chinese-language research report on the topic, titled “民营企业上市规范问题”. You can download a copy by clicking here or from Research Reports page of the CFC website.

The report was written specifically for an audience of Chinese SME bosses, to provide them both with analysis and recommendations on how to manage this process successfully.  Our goal here (as with all of our research reports) is to provide tools for Chinese entrepreneurs to become leaders in their industry, and eventually leaders on the stock market. That means more PE capital gets deployed, more private Chinese companies stage successful exits and most important, China’s private sector economy continues its robust growth.

For English-only speakers, here’s a summary of some of the key points in the report:

  1. The process of becoming “guifan” will almost always mean that a Chinese company must begin to invoice all sales and purchases, and so pay much higher rates of tax, two to three years before any IPO can take place
  2. The higher tax rate will mean less cash for the business to invest in its own expansion. This, in turn, can lead to an erosion in market share, since “non-guifan” competitors will suddenly enjoy significant cost advantages
  3. Another likely consequence of becoming “guifan” – significantly lower net margins. This, in turn, impacts valuation at IPO
  4. The best way to lower the impact of “guifan” is to get more cash into the business as the process begins, either new bank lending or private equity. This can replenish the money that must now will go to pay the taxman, and so pump up the capital available to expansion and re-investment
  5. As a general rule, most  Chinese private companies with profits of at least Rmb30mn can raise at least five times more PE capital than they will pay in increased annual taxes from becoming “guifan”. A good trade-off, but not a free lunch
  6. For a PE fund, it’s necessary to accept that some of the money they invest in a private Chinese company will go, in effect, to pay Chinese taxes. But, since only “guifan” companies will get approved for a domestic Chinese IPO, the higher tax payments are like a toll payment to achieve exit at China’s high IPO valuations
  7. After IPO, the company will have plenty of money to expand its scale and so, in the best cases, claw back any cost disadvantage or net margin decline during the run-up to IPO

We spend more time dealing with “guifan” issues than just about anything else in our client work. Often that means working to develop valuation methodologies that allow our clients to raise PE capital without being excessively penalized for any short-term decrease in net income caused by “guifan” process.

Along with the meaty content, the report also features fifteen images of Tang Dynasty “Sancai ceramics, perhaps my favorite among all of China’s many sublime styles of pottery.



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