Singapore Exchange could list blank-check companies this year if it gets enough support from the industry.

An impending market consultation on special purpose acquisition companies this quarter could take some time to get feedback, Chief Executive Officer Loh Boon Chye said in an interview on Feb 17. “If the market is supportive, we hope to be able to do that sometime this year.”

SPACs became a buzzword last year, sprouting by the dozen as the rich and famous — from hedge fund billionaire Bill Ackman to former US Speaker of the House Paul Ryan — and private equity firms rushed to set up new ones.

SPACs are increasingly seen as an appealing alternative route to public markets because the process avoids the risk and uncertainty of an initial public offering, though they have also been criticised for their structure, where managers — the founders — collect fees as an incentive to find a target and complete a deal. Many blank-check companies have turned to Asia to seek takeover targets.

The concept isn’t new to the Singapore exchange. It had initiated a consultation on SPAC listings in 2010 — but there wasn’t enough appetite among businesses and investors back then.

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“The world has changed, capital markets have evolved since then,” said Loh, who took over as CEO in 2015 after a long career in banking. He added that lower-for-longer interest rates, shorter business cycles, volatile markets and stimulus measures are heightening the need for and the ability to seek capital. SPACs could facilitate that while minimising market risk exposure by providing another avenue for investment, he said.

SPACs could be a way to revive investor interest in Singapore’s stock market. The bourse has struggled to attract big-ticket IPOs over the past few years particularly in hot sectors such as technology. While the market volatility of 2020 was a boon, the value of shares traded remained below its five-year average.

SGX expects stock market listings this year in various sectors including technology, he said, as it awaits the mega IPO of Thai Beverage Pcl’s brewery unit. The amount raised in first-time share sales in the city-state slumped to US$914 million last year from US$3.4 billion in 2017, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.