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Hong Kong audit reform falls short

Five years ago Hong Kong’s capital markets were dealt a humiliating blow by the European Union (EU). Hong Kong was removed from a list of jurisdictions deemed to have regulatory equivalency with the EU. The move happened because Hong Kong did not have an effective independent audit regulator, since the auditing profession in Hong Kong was self-regulated by the Hong Kong Institute of CPAs. I have written many times about how the HKICPAs is a feckless regulator, reluctant to take on the big firms and when it is finally forced to enforce the rules, doling out miniscule penalties.

It has taken five years, but finally Legco (Hong Kong’s legislative body) is preparing to take action. The Financial Reporting Council (Amendment) Bill of 2018 is working its way through the legislative process in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, the proposal falls far short of what is needed. I fear that the legislators have fallen into the trap of finding themselves up to their ass in alligators while forgetting that their original objective was to drain the swamp. The proposal has the fingerprints of the profession all over it, and has been weakened to the point of being mostly useless.

Spinoffs - Chinese style

Spinoffs are situations where a corporation disposes of part of its business by giving shares in the business to shareholders. When they work, the value of the parts is greater than the value of the whole. “Spinoffs” of US listed Chinese companies work differently.

A favorite transaction of US listed Chinese companies is to "spin off" parts of the business in a new entity in an IPO transaction. Shareholders of the parent company are not distributed shares of the company that does an IPO although they may benefit if the value of the underlying shares is recognized in the stock price. There have been a number of these transactions and several in the pipeline.

I have observed, however, that the biggest winners in these transactions appear to be members of management. Management typically ends up with a big chunk of these deals which are structured in a way that does not report as expense the value transferred to them.

Rather than point to a specific transaction, I am going to examine these transactions through a straw man. When I look at specific transactions, I find the public documents obscure what is going on and add bells and whistles that do not alter the essence of the transaction while providing arguments to counter any attacks on the structure. So, the transaction I describe below is fictitious, although I think fairly represents what is going on. I leave it to others to apply this to specific transactions. I apologize, but this simplified example is still complicated as hell.

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