A period of reform for UK stock exchanges?

Wednesday, 02 Jun 2021

With COVID-19 and Brexit providing the impetus to review the UK listing landscape, Carolyn Gelling explores the latest developments within the public markets, including at The International Stock Exchange (TISE).

New listings on global stock exchanges have continued to hit new highs in both number and volume during the opening months of 2021, reflecting an ongoing trend of heightened appetite for public listing.  With the impact of COVID-19 creating a massive challenge for economies and businesses across the globe during 2020 and continuing, the wider capital market infrastructure has been a source of support in facilitating new financing, or refinancing, when it has been in most urgent demand.  Stock exchanges have played their role within that ecosystem, in enabling access to investors and we have witnessed both essential and opportunistic deals in relation to new listings carried out on our own exchange over recent months.

Public & private markets

In a continued low interest rate environment, it is not surprising that there is demand from investors seeking returns, and stock markets have provided an essential bridge in connecting those with the supply of funds, to those with demand.  The steady flow of Initial Public Offering (IPOs) during the first few months of 2021, demonstrates the presence of a ‘wall of cash’ seeking investment opportunities, albeit that many have urged caution about the current pace of IPO issuance and the danger of potential impending pricing pressure.  Alongside this, private markets have also remained vibrant in most sectors, with private equity continuing to deploy available funds as well as supporting their existing portfolio companies.

UK Listing Review  

Despite the global uptick in new listing activity, the UK has been facing pressure as a jurisdiction, with only 5% of global IPOs having been carried out in London between 2015 and 2020. SPACs, or Special Purpose Acquisition Companies, have been used extensively in IPO issuance outside of the UK of late and there is much commentary in professional circles about the need for change in UK listing rules to accommodate this type of listing.  For those less familiar with the acronym, SPACs are a vehicle used to hold a cash pool that is pending investment or acquisition, and their primary advantage is in the ability to gain time efficiency within a deal process, where purely by their nature traditional IPOs may not move so quickly.

On 3rd March, the UK Listing Review, led by Lord Jonathan Hill and now labelled ‘the Hill Report’ set out a series of recommended changes to the UK’s current listing regime, including changes that are intended to encourage SPAC listing in the UK. Many of the UK’s current rules have not been updated since 1990 and therefore the review was felt to be long overdue, particularly in supporting the UK’s desire to support innovative and growing SME businesses, a bedrock of the UK’s economy.  The recommended changes are widespread and collectively aim to evoke change that is intended to reinvigorate the UK’s position as a competitive jurisdiction for new listings. 

TISE – another option

Our own listing regime at TISE has undergone regular innovation over recent years, with updates to our listing rules and changes to the application process, such as applying new service level assurances around response times for new listing applications and new SPAC rules.  Sitting outside of the UK, yet working closely with UK market participants, we welcome continued innovation and wider participation in public markets. 

It is pleasing to note that TISE has been part of the global trend for increased public issuance, with the first quarter of 2021 having brought a new record as we witnessed more new listings than in any other first quarter since the inception of the Exchange in 1998. In equity markets, this included a pleasing number of new UK Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), including an Isle of Man based REIT, further increasing our market share in that area. 

This was coupled with an active period for high yield bonds, including issuances from pan-European groups Altice (telecommunications) and Q-Park (parking), Scandinavian-based Assemblin (installation and service), Belgium-headquartered House HR (human resources), the British-American Carnival Corporation (cruise operator) and US-headquartered Hertz (car rental) and Diebold Nixdorf (technology). Other bonds listings on TISE during the first three months of 2021 have included Chinese-backed data centre provider Global Switch, the English Premier League’s Crystal Palace Football Club and Scottish-originated and now international footwear provider, Schuh.

Conclusion

Lord Hill stated in his report that there was a sense of urgency and the need to harness the current appetite for reform. As an innovative exchange which has close relationships with but sits outside the UK, this is something which we at TISE welcome and we continue to watch with interest whether and how reforms are implemented over the coming months. 

Originally published in Business Insider North West, June 2021.

 

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Carolyn Gelling
Carolyn Gelling
Head of Equity Markets