Jump in hottest Hong Kong IPO makes founder China’s 2nd-richest


HONG KONG • It was the hottest IPO in town. Now, Nongfu Spring Co Ltd’s stock surge has turned its founder into China’s third-richest person.

Shares of the bottled-water maker jumped as much as 85% and closed up 54% in Hong Kong. The debut was the city’s fourth-best on record among firms that raised more than US$1 billion (RM4.2 billion).

The surge has pushed the net worth of Zhong Shanshan (picture), who owns 84% of the company he founded in 1996, to US$51 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He’s now the wealthiest person in China after Alibaba Group Holding Ltd’s Jack Ma and Tencent Holdings Ltd’s Pony Ma.

The IPO was a smash hit in Hong Kong, so much so that the retail portion was oversubscribed by more than 1,100 times and Nongfu increased the number of shares allocated to the public. That was after it priced at the top end of a marketed range.

Despite the Covid-19 outbreak, the IPO market in China and Hong Kong has remained vibrant this year. Companies raised almost US$60 billion via new share sales in 2020, more than double from the same period in 2019, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Hong Kong is becoming an increasingly popular listing venue amid US-China tensions, while demand from retail investors has been surging as ample liquidity encouraged banks to lend. In China, IPOs produced at least 24 new billionaires in the first half of the year.

Zhong, also known by the local media as the Lone Wolf for eschewing business groups and politics, is the only tycoon among China’s five richest people who isn’t from the tech or real estate industry, which typically dominate the ranking. His fortune was boosted in April when Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise Co Ltd, a company he acquired a controlling stake in almost two decades ago, went public in Shanghai. The stock has surged almost 2,150% since then.

That’s quite a turnaround for a man whose schooling got interrupted during the nation’s Cultural Revolution and who worked in construction and in journalism before turning to bottled water.

Now Zhong is sharing his success: The Nongfu listing is also creating at least 68 new millionaires. Dozens of them became shareholders just last year, when Zhong and his holding company transferred 0.79% of Nongfu as part of a staff incentive programme.

Jack Ma has topped the list of China’s richest people for most of the past six years, after Alibaba went public in the US. The listing of his Ant Group is poised to boost his fortune further — his stake would be worth US$25 billion if it achieves the US$225 billion valuation people familiar with the matter have said it’s targeting. — Bloomberg