History lessons from 2003 for pathogen-hit Asian markets
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History lessons from 2003 for pathogen-hit Asian markets

It may still be months before the latest coronavirus outbreak in China reaches its peak, so timing is everything for capital market practitioners in the region.


In 2003, the Hong Kong IPO market, then as now dominated by aspiring mainland corporates, started off with a bang before tailing off sharply as news of a deadly new pathogen emerged. Severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, resulted in 774 deaths, with Hong Kong and Beijing hardest hit.

For a while, the city’s capital markets all but closed down. One after the other, mainland firms delayed their Hong Kong listing plans. No one could travel around China; even if they could, few global investors in the US or Europe were inclined to meet bankers, let alone corporate chiefs, who lived and worked in the eye of the storm.

That generated all manner of logistical nightmares. A US-born banker working on the $328 million IPO of Indonesia’s Bank Mandiri in July 2003, remembers being unable to travel to Jakarta.

“I had to do it from Hong Kong,” he tells Euromoney. “The [Indonesian] authorities wouldn’t let me in.”

When activity resumed, a few brave souls tested the waters, starting with Beijing Capital Land, whose stock sale, slated for February, went ahead in June.