Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

Hong Kong — Chinese e-cigarette maker RLX Technology is looking to raise as much as $1.17bn from a US initial public offering (IPO), highlighting how US stock exchanges remain attractive fundraising avenues for mainland firms despite heated tensions between the world’s two biggest economies.

RLX Technology, backed by Sequoia Capital China, is selling 116.5-million American Depositary Shares at $8 to $10 each, according to a US filing. Each ADS represents one ordinary share and will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

The Chinese company, known for its RELX-branded devices in China, had earlier considered Hong Kong as a listing venue, but it ultimately opted for the US.

Tensions between Beijing and Washington have ratcheted up in the past few weeks as the New York Stock Exchange moved to delist three Chinese telecommunications firms following two earlier U-turns where the bourse flip-flopped between removing and keeping the shares.

Adding to the headwinds for Chinese companies looking to go public in the US is a law that could lead to them being kicked off US exchanges if US regulators can’t vet their audit papers.

Still, deteriorating US-China relations last year appeared to have no discernible effect on Chinese companies’ thirst for US capital.

Almost $15bn was raised by Chinese IPOs on US exchanges in 2020, the second-most on record, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. US exchanges are more welcoming of loss-making companies than either Hong Kong or Chinese bourses, as well as having a more streamlined listing process.

RLX, founded in 2018, is China’s largest e-cigarette maker. The vaping industry has boomed in China even as the country banned online sales of e-cigarettes just over a year ago. China has joined other countries globally in putting pressure on vaping amid concerns about its potential health effects.

China is the world’s largest potential vaping market, with an estimated 286.7-million adult smokers in 2019, RLX said in its prospectus. But vaping products only have a 1.2% penetration rate, compared with 32.4% in the US.

RLX’s revenues increased to 2-2-billion yuan ($340m) in the first nine months of 2020 from 1.14 billion yuan a year earlier. It started turning a profit in 2019 and recorded net income of 109-million yuan in the nine months to Sept. 2020.

The company plans to price the IPO on January 20 after the US market closes, according to a term sheet. Citigroup is sole bookrunner for the offering.

Bloomberg

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