The Impact of the RCEP on Singapore 2022 Inbound Investment Flows
Singapore special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs), crypto developments, and tie-ins with Chinese exchanges indicate a new direction
By Asia Investment Research
The RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) is a free trade area that includes China, all ten ASEAN nations, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. Collectively, this includes 30 percent of the world’s population and 30 percent of its GDP. The agreement came into effect on January 1, this year.
In this article, we highlight key findings concerning Singapore, showcasing the impact of the RCEP on its inbound investments as global businesses react to the creation of this huge free trade area.
There were in fact extraordinary developments in the country during Q4 2021, prior to the January RCEP launch. Singapore introduced a number of actual and planned changes to its stock exchange, saw numerous leading financial services players form hubs, the formation of a regional COVID vaccine JV launched, and its regulators tested in the crypto segment.
Relative to Singapore, none of the 15 investments/acquisitions made during Q4 2021 were over US$50 million, although four were valued at US$40 million or more (averaging US$14.8 million). Eight of the 15 investments in Singapore were TMT / crypto/ blockchain. There were three in biotech/healthcare (Sinopharm amount was not disclosed), one each in EdTech, transportation, industrial, and consumer.
Historically, the Singapore Stock Exchange (SGX) has been dominated by banking, property, and transportation companies. It has also had difficulties in attracting new listings. By December 2021, there were only eight new equity offerings, totaling circa US$1 billion, the largest of which was a US$600 million REIT. It has struggled to attract high-profile tech IPOs, which have chosen other exchanges to list.
Meanwhile, several China and Southeast Asian sponsors of SPACs and their target companies have largely ignored the SGX, instead of listing on US stock exchanges, which have seen a huge growth in this form of IPO. One example is Vertex, a shareholder of Singapore tech unicorn Grab, which in December listed in the US via a SPAC merger in one of 2021’s highest-profile IPOs of a Southeast Asian start-up.
In response, in late 2021, Singapore’s financial regulators gave the SGX first-mover advantage as the first major Asian exchange to approve SPACs, including two new government funds to facilitate the growth. Combined with the regulatory uncertainty related to Chinese tech companies, and the delays in approving Hong Kong-listed SPACs, this is expected to lead to a strong pipeline of SGX IPOs in 2022, a situation that seems to be developing as intended.
In December 2021, Vertex Holdings, a unit of Singapore’s Temasek, European asset manager Tikehau Capital, Vietnamese asset manager VinaCapital, and Singapore buyout firm Novo Tellus Capital Partners were in discussions for an IPO via a SPAC on the SGX in 2022. More can be expected.
Singapore as a regional RCEP hub
In October 2021, Love, Bonito (Singapore) raised US$50 million in a Series C round led by China-based PE firm Primavera Capital Group. This marks Primavera Capital’s first investment into Southeast Asia. The PE firm – which had previously invested in Alibaba, ByteDance, and Yum China – is joined by Japan-based retail giant Adastria, and Chinese venture capital firm Ondine Capital. Current investors include Temasek-backed Openspace Ventures and the Japanese online price comparison website Kakaku.com. In December, Primavera opened a Singapore office, with plans to both raise a SPAC as well as to make additional investments in Southeast Asia.
Singapore and international financial institutions
In Q3 2021, HSBC Insurance (Asia-Pacific) Holdings Ltd, an indirect wholly-owned subsidiary of HSBC Holdings plc (HSBC), agreed to acquire 100 percent of the issued share capital of AXA Insurance Pte Limited (AXA Singapore) for US$575m. The proposed acquisition is a key step in achieving HSBC’s stated ambition of becoming a leading wealth manager in Asia, by expanding its insurance and wealth franchise in Singapore, a strategically important scale market for HSBC, and a major hub for its ASEAN wealth business.
Furthermore, in Q3, Standard Chartered agreed on a joint venture deal to launch SC Bank Solutions, a digital-only bank in Singapore, with BetaPlus, a holding company controlled by NTUC Enterprise, as part of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC). Under the agreement, SCBSL will hold 60 percent while BetaPlus will hold 40 percent of the issued and paid-up share capital of SC Bank Solutions. SCBSL and BetaPlus will contribute a total of S$144 million (US$107 million) and S$96 million (US$71 million), respectively, for a total aggregate cash amount of S$240 million (US$178 million).
Singapore and global vaccines
In November 2021, Pasaca Capital Inc, the private equity firm that owns one of the world’s largest COVID-19 test providers, Innova Medical Group, Inc., and Sinopharm’s China National together with Merchant Banking Innovation Biotech Group (CNBG), one of the largest vaccine producers in the world, announced the establishment of a global joint venture: Sino-Innovax Biotech Pte Ltd. This is a 49 percent/51 percent partnership between Innova Bio-Medical Pte Ltd (Singapore), a subsidiary wholly owned by Pasaca Capital Inc, and Sinopharm Biotech Co Ltd (Hong Kong), a wholly-owned subsidiary of CNBG. The joint venture, which is Sinopharm’s first investment in Singapore, will initially focus on the manufacturing and global distribution of Sinopharm’s virus inactivated COVID-19 vaccines and will include other vaccines currently produced or in development by CNBG.
Singapore hesitant on crypto exchange global leadership
In December, Binance (China) Asia Services (Singapore) announced the acquisition of its 18 percent stake in Hg Exchange, Southeast Asia’s first member-driven private securities exchange, founded by leading financial institutions PhillipCapital, PrimePartners, and Fundnel, powered by Zilliqa’s high-performance blockchain.
Binance is the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange with a daily turnover of US$76 billion. This move came after Binance mulled leaving Singapore over its regulatory license limbo. The plan was for the acquisition to help Binance clear regulatory hurdles, as HGX was recently granted a recognized market operator license from the Monetary Authority of Singapore. However, by end of December, Binance withdrew its application in Singapore and began talks in the UAE.
Increased Singapore links with Chinese exchanges
Q4 2021 ended with several new initiatives to expand and strengthen financial cooperation between Singapore and China, particularly in capital markets and green finance, agreed during the 17th Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) between Singapore and China. These included ETF Connect – SGX and Shenzhen Stock Exchange signed an MoU to establish an Exchange Traded Funds (ETF) Product Link to enable eligible fund managers to offer ETF products to investors in each other’s markets; and collaboration in Commodity derivatives. Asia Pacific Futures (APF) has become the first Singapore firm to acquire an Overseas Special Brokerage Participant (OSBP) status of the Shanghai International Energy Exchange (INE). This will allow Singapore-based investors to directly trade internationalized onshore commodity products through AFP. Discussions continue on bond platform connectivity and greater financing flows to green projects in Asia.
With the exception of the Crypto issue, Singapore is positioning itself as a regional hub to integrate better with and provide services to the RCEP region. For assistance with regulatory and investment into the country, please contact our Singapore offices here.
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