Hong Kong. International banks including UBS Group AG and Morgan Stanley agreed to pay a combined HK$787 million ($100 million) to settle cases brought by Hong Kong authorities relating to their work on initial public offerings in the city.
Bank of America Corp. and Standard Chartered Plc were also fined, the Securities and Futures Commission said in a statement on Thursday. UBS, which faced the largest penalty, HK$375 million, will also be banned from sponsoring IPOs for 12 months, the SFC said. Managing Director Cen Tian, also known as Tim Cen, had his Hong Kong license suspended for two years.
The settlements bring an end to multiyear investigations by the financial regulator, which has been increasing its efforts to clean up Hong Kong’s capital markets. The collapse of several high-profile companies shortly after their trading debuts left investors with losses and dented the city’s reputation as a premier financial hub. The SFC is probing other IPOs, its enforcement chief has previously said.
Each bank’s total penalties:
Hong Kong’s sponsor regime makes banks and brokerages liable for what’s said in a company’s prospectus, and they’re also required to ensure stated accounts are accurate. The rules are designed to strengthen accountability in a city that sees a large percentage of IPOs from offshore entities outside the SFC’s jurisdiction.
“The sanctions send a strong and clear message to the market that we will not hesitate to hold errant sponsors accountable for their misconduct,” Ashley Alder, SFC chief executive officer, said in the statement.
Notable SFC fines
The fines were related to the IPOs of China Forestry Holdings Co., Tianhe Chemicals Group Ltd and a third company that the SFC didn’t name. Each had their shares suspended soon after going public amid scrutiny of their financial accounting.
Standard Chartered and UBS were joint sponsors of China Forestry’s 2009 IPO, which raised $216 million. The stock was suspended in 2011 after financial irregularities were discovered, and the company is now in liquidation. Cen’s license was revoked for failing to discharge his supervisory duties relating to the deal, the SFC said. Among the bank’s errors was a failure to verify China Forestry’s legal rights over forests it claimed to control, according to the regulator.
UBS, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley were joint sponsors on the 2014 IPO of Tianhe Chemicals. The company’s shares haven’t traded since 2015, a year after a short seller’s accusations against the business sent its stock tumbling.