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OPINION

Updated December 21st, 2023 at 18:02 IST

China’s Huawei could be the surprise IPO of 2024

Huawei could be one of China’s most valuable companies

Reuters Breakingviews
Chan Ka Sing
Huwai three quarter results
Chinese investors could help Huawei’s stock soar. | Image:Huwai
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Never say never. Huawei’s CEO Ren Zhengfei always insisted that the telecoms giant he founded will never become a publicly traded company and that it would instead focus on working for the bigger ideals of society. An initial public offering could be on the horizon if China’s national interest is at stake, however.

To achieve the goal of building a “great modern socialist country”, President Xi Jinping has repeatedly stressed the importance of innovation and technological self-sufficiency. Huawei can help Beijing deliver on both fronts. The smartphone it released in September was a surprisingly sophisticated product from a company subject to American sanctions. The device is full of Chinese-made components and is powered by an advanced semiconductor believed to be made by Shanghai’s Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC).

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Yet investing in research and development in the face of U.S. restrictions is taking its toll. Huawei’s operating profit margin has shrunk from over 10% in 2018 to less than 7% in 2022, when annual net profit fell to just $5.1 billion. On the same 25 times trailing earnings multiple as iPhone maker Apple, Huawei would be worth $128 billion.

The company could be worth much more than that, though. Ni Guangnan, ex-chief technology officer at Lenovo and longtime proponent of China developing its own processing chips, opined in 2019 that Huawei could be worth $1.3 trillion. He didn’t provide a detailed explanation, but Apple’s market capitalisation had just topped $1 trillion.

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Chinese investors could help Huawei’s stock soar. They are renowned for their enthusiasm in chasing hot offerings. SMIC was worth less than $6 billion upon its delisting from New York in 2019. After floating its shares in Shanghai a year later, it was worth about $30 billion by December 2023. A Huawei IPO might receive a similarly euphoric reception and inject life into China’s stock market if mom-and-pop traders believe the company will receive state backing and win market share from global rivals.

In a letter to staff in 2021, Ren said that Huawei’s businesses could “gradually enter the market in the future”. Handset maker Honor, a sub-brand Huawei sold to a consortium led by a Shenzhen state firm in 2020, in November articulated a plan to go public. The same month Huawei said it will move core technologies in its smart car unit to a joint venture owned 40% by automaker Chongqing Changan Automobile. Huawei is busy remaking itself and pushing boundaries. An IPO would fit the bill too.

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Published December 21st, 2023 at 18:02 IST

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