Singapore courts local tech giants over ‘national duty’ to relist

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Singapore is lobbying its largest technology companies to relist in the city-state, arguing it is their “national duty” in an escalation of the financial hub’s bid to boost the appeal of its stock market.

Over the past year, exchange officials have intensified attempts to persuade Singapore-based companies, including tech conglomerate Sea and superapp Grab, to return after completing initial public offerings in the US, said people familiar with the discussions.

Officials have previously promoted the benefits of a secondary listing on the Singapore stock exchange to Sea, pitching it as an opportunity to be included on local stock indices and benefit from extra fund flows, one of the people said. But more recently, the company has been pressured to fulfil its “national duty” to the city-state, they added.

Singapore’s patriotic pitch underlines its struggle to lure more high-profile listings to its stock exchange, despite the financial hub in recent years emerging as a popular incubator for tech companies such as Sea, which owns ecommerce app Shopee and popular online game Free Fire.

Sea and Grab have considered homecoming share sales, following similar moves by Chinese tech companies in Hong Kong. But SGX has been mired in low trading volumes and accounting scandals that have prompted delistings, while the global tech market rout this year has diminished the appeal of pursuing another flotation.

One finance industry professional in Singapore said there had been an overt effort to pressure overseas-listed businesses since early this year.

Grab, a ride-hailing and food delivery app that completed a $40bn listing in New York in December, has also been targeted, the person said. Its merger with a special purpose acquisition company was the biggest of its kind globally.

A person close to Sea, a $39.8bn business that debuted in New York in 2017, said SGX officials have requested meetings with the company as frequently as every few months.

Singapore’s charm offensive comes after a handful of start-ups in neighbouring Indonesia opted to list locally for their IPO. Jakarta has lured businesses away from more developed markets with looser regulations, such as allowing dual-class shares that give founders greater control of their companies.

When GoTo, the country’s biggest tech start-up, listed in Jakarta in April, chief executive Andre Soelistyo said he would “like to express our gratitude to the government of Indonesia . . . for their continued commitment to the growth of Indonesia’s digital economy”.

But the person close to Sea said the company was unlikely to bow to pressure from Singapore. In May last year, Sea was allowed to enter MSCI’s index of Singaporean companies after the index provider said foreign-listed businesses were eligible.

As with Grab, Sea’s stock has plunged more than three quarters over the past 12 months amid a broader tech stock sell-off, further damping the incentive to raise money at its current valuation.

Grab and Sea declined to comment. SGX did not respond to a request for comment.

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