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Norway sovereign wealth fund questions voting rights proposal at Hong Kong Stock Exchange

The manager of Norway's 7.7 trillion Norwegian kronor ($968 billion) sovereign wealth fund has expressed concerns over proposed voting rights for listing companies on a new segment of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.​

A letter signed by Petter Johnsen, chief investment officer, equities at the Government Pension Fund Global manager, Norges Bank Investment Management, responds to a "concept paper" published by the stock exchange on June 16, which seeks feedback on a proposal to establish a new listings segment of the exchange that would allow earlier-stage and other companies to list. The aim is to broaden capital markets access in Hong Kong by opening to a more diverse range of issuers.

The fund invested $18.6 billion in equities listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange as of the end of 2016.

NBIM said that while the concept paper is a "straw man" proposal, and not fully developed regarding how to adjust the listing requirements at the exchange, "we would have liked to see a more balanced consideration of the interests of all the stakeholders in the listing environment. Considerable weight is given to the interests of the exchange in attracting the listing of certain issuers compared to the interests of long-term investors in supplying capital to issuers."

The main concern relates to the proposed introduction of weighted voting rights applicable to listings on the new segment of the exchange, allowing issuers to provide unequal voting rights to shareholders of different share classes.

While NBIM noted the proposed weighted voting rights would be limited to the newly established market segment, "in our view this does not provide sufficient safeguards against the weakening of investor protection."

However, NBIM does support measures to motivate companies to raise capital via public money and to share risk, "both in the early phase of their life cycles and in more mature stages." NBIM acknowledged that relaxing certain eligibility criteria may be appropriate in the early stages of a newly listed company's life cycle, and said more stringent conditions can be reapplied at a later date based on growth and company size. "In this context, we are receptive to the arguments in favor of listing companies that have not yet reported profits."

The concept paper is available on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange's website.