Hong Kong Depository Receipts (HDRs)
I didn’t know until I was reading the Wall Street Journal this morning that Hong Kong had depository receipts (DRs). But COH just issued one.
Sure enough, checking with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange website, HDRs have been permitted in that market since mid-2008. Not many takers so far, however. The HKSE lists Vale, the Brazilian iron ore company, with two HDRs; SBI, a Japanese internet-based financial, has one. And now there’s COH (6388 is the Hong Kong ticker symbol).
what they are
The basic idea behind a DR is to provide a simple way for a domestic investor to buy a foreign stock without having to set up a brokerage account in the foreign country or to deal with foreign exchange, either in buying and selling or in receiving dividends.
The buyer doesn’t actually get a share of stock, however. Instead, he gets an IOU (the receipt) from some financial entity, usually a bank, that holds the real shares in a depository account. The bank handles all the necessary administrative details, like foreign exchange and the sometimes messy business of meeting the foreign country’s securities and tax regulations.
The company whose stock underlies the DR may use the DR issuance to raise capital in a new market, where investors may well pay a higher multiple for shares than would be possible in the home market. In the biggest DR market, the US, I’ve found this often the case–and regard it as a bad sign. In my experience, seeing a mature company launch an ADR means it has lost its allure for more knowledgeable home market investors. (Another important factor in ADR issuance in particular is that it circumvents the more stringent disclosure and reporting requirements that the SEC has for US-based companies.)
In the COH case, however, the firm has not created 6388 to raise new funds–after all, operations are generating $1 billion in annual net cash. It has created a DR to raise its public profile in Greater China.
their Achilles heel
The bane of DRs, in my opinion, is low trading volume and potentially Grand Canyon-wide bid-asked spreads. I’ve found the problem especially acute in cases, like this one, where the operating hours of the home and DR exchanges don’t overlap. According to the HKSE website, trading in 6388 over the past five days has only totaled about US$11,000. The bid-asked spread shown is about 2% (my experience in the US is that the spread for a stock like this could be more like 10%). December is usually a dreary month for investors, so January will probably give a better read on volume.
Nevertheless, COH has probably gotten more publicity in China through the HDR listing than it would have been able to buy with the money it spent to create its HDR. The phenomenon itself it worth watching, as well. Two reasons:
–we may ultimately reach a tipping point where having a HDR acquires a cachet that exerts a positive influence on the home market security price, and
–pioneers like COH may have a leg up on obtaining an eventual listing on a mainland exchange.