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Reforms to give market forces more IPO clout

An investor checks the electronic board at a stock exchange in Shanghai. [Photo/VCG]

China will accelerate capital market reforms this year, giving priority to expanding the market-based initial public offering system, improving the quality of listed companies and increasing market openness to draw more long-term institutional capital from home and abroad, analysts said.

The country's top securities regulator, the China Securities Regulatory Commission, will hold its annual work conference later this month to set the agenda for the reforms and will lay out the regulator's key tasks and main objectives.

Investors have followed previous meetings closely to look for policy clues that could affect their strategies in China.

A top priority of the regulator's reform agenda this year is gradually expanding the pilot registration-based IPO system to a wider marketplace, after the country's top legislature adopted the revised Securities Law establishing the system's legal basis and abolished administrative approvals for new share sales, analysts said.

The IPO reforms will be expanded first to ChiNext, the startup board of the Shenzhen Stock Exchange. The regulator had successfully experimented with a registration-based IPO system at Shanghai's technology-focused STAR Market in June.

The market-based IPO reforms, which are endorsed by the country's top leadership, represent a fundamental shift in approach that has been in the making for several years. It is designed to let market forces play a major role in new share issuance, remove administrative intervention and improve market efficiency.

"Marketization has been the core philosophy of China's economic reform, as well as the reform of the securities market," said Chen Jiahe, chief investment officer of Beijing investment firm Novem Arcae Technologies. "With the registration system, the market itself and investors will become the primary decision-makers when it comes to IPO issuance. This will make the IPO mechanism, as well as the whole securities market, more efficient than before."

The revised Securities Law, which takes effect on March 1, will help facilitate the smooth market-based reform of China's capital market, analysts said, as the revised law significantly raises the cost companies will face if they engage in fraudulent activities, such as financial fraud or insider trading. The law also stepped up requirements on information disclosure and boosted the legal protection of investors' rights and interests.

Investor sentiment was boosted by expectations of favorable reforms. The Shanghai Composite Index was up 0.75 percent, closing at 3115.57 points on Monday. The startup board in Shenzhen rose 1.62 percent to 1935.07 points, its highest level in 33 months.

The regulator's reform agenda this year is expected to follow the 12 priorities announced by CSRC Chairman Yi Huiman in September, which include improving the quality of listed companies, enforcing stricter delisting rules, stepping up regulation on mergers and acquisitions, improving refinancing rules and further opening the capital market to foreign investors.

Li Daxiao, chief economist at Yingda Securities, said investors will see stricter regulation of listed companies and a rise in the number of delistings.

"China's capital reform efforts are market-oriented, rules-based and more compatible with international standards. As the Chinese stock market grows rapidly, the acceleration of the reforms will help boost the market's global profile and enable it to better serve the economy," Li said.

Xue Yi, a professor of finance at the University of International Business and Economics, said the reforms will help build a fair, transparent and dynamic market in the long run, which will boost its attractiveness to foreign investors and maintain a stable market environment.

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