The countdown has begun for the launch of China's Nasdaq-style stock market, with the country's securities regulator poised to announce the first batch of companies approved for listings on the Growth Enterprise Market as soon as Thursday.
If everything goes according to plan, the GEM, which will be on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange and is aimed at funding technology- and innovation-driven start-ups, would open for business as early as mid-October, analysts said.
Hopes are that the GEM, which authorities have considered for nine years, will open up a fund-raising channel for cash-hungry start-ups that are deemed critical for Beijing's effort to restructure its export- and manufacturing-dependent economy in the long run. Such smaller firms have had little access to an avalanche of new lending in China this year.
Down the line, supporters say the GEM could prove a rival to the likes of New York's Nasdaq Stock Market and London's Alternative Investment Market as a place for small Chinese companies to find backing, though precedents for such markets in Asia aren't too encouraging.
Although the GEM has been positioned as a high-risk, high-growth marketplace, a look at the seven companies whose initial public offerings are being reviewed suggests Beijing is seeking to ensure a stable start for the exchange by selecting more mature firms, including a state-owned enterprise.
The China Securities Regulatory Commission said Sunday that it will start reviewing GEM-related IPO applications from Thursday, with seven firms chosen for the first round, including Beijing Lanxum Technology Co., Beijing Ultrapower Software Co. and Lepu Medical Technology (Beijing) Co.
The companies could raise a combined 2.27 billion yuan ($332.4 million) from their IPOs, according to a calculation based on information in their prospectuses.
"Most of the seven companies look very similar to those previously seeking a listing on the Small and Medium Enterprise Board in terms of size and industry," said Li Bin, an analyst at Guolian Securities, who said it is likely the companies were originally SME Board applicants, which generally are relatively well established and not in the high-risk category that the GEM is supposed to target.
The average scale of the seven IPOs falls into the range of 200 million yuan to 500 million yuan considered typical for a new listing on the SME Board, which is also on the Shenzhen exchange.
So far, 149 companies have applied for GEM listings, and analysts said those with sounder financial health and more stable earnings are expected to go through first.
Indeed, Mr. Li said most of the seven companies being reviewed this week don't qualify as innovation-driven start-ups, neither in terms of the nature of their businesses nor their shareholding structure.
In a market meant as a playground for mostly private enterprises, one hardly expects to see a state-owned company, but 53.9% of Lepu Medical Technology, a medical appliances maker, is indirectly held by China Shipbuilding Industry Corp. through two of its units.
The CSRC has said the GEM would mainly serve companies in businesses such as renewable energy, biomedicine, electronic information and environmental protection.