(Feb 12): Robson Lee had a decision to make. In his more than two-decade career as a capital-markets lawyer in Singapore, he’d helped more than 30 companies list on the country’s stock exchange, bringing to market everything from a grocery store chain to a pawnbroker. Business had been good, but it was starting to dry up. Lee decided he had to get out. “I saw the decline,” he says. “That’s why I moved.”
That was in 2014, when more companies left the Singapore Exchange than joined it, with $8.4 billion in value disappearing from the public market. Lee, now 50, quit his job and became a partner in the Singapore office of the US law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. While he still works on SGX listings, he spends more than three-quarters of his time helping companies throughout Asia to restructure and make asset purchases.
The exchange’s fortunes have only gotten worse. For the last five years, delistings have outnumbered listings in the market, which had 741 companies at the end of December last year, down from a peak of 782 in 2010. In 2018 the money raised from the 15 SGX initial public offerings, excluding depositary receipts, fell to just $710.6 million, while 19 companies departed—a net outflow of $19.2 billion in market value. While money has been leaving the public markets, Singapore has strengthened its position as a leading wealth hub in Asia, with private banks overseeing more than US$2 trillion ($2.7 trillion) in assets and providing alternative investment opportunities in structured products, real estate, and private equity.