The world, apparently, has a new financial giant.
AMTD Digital Inc., a Hong Kong-based company that listed in New York less than three weeks ago, has surged so much that the combined market value of its Class A and Class B shares was more than $203 billion as of Wednesday’s close.
That means the firm — which develops digital businesses, including financial services — is worth more than Wells Fargo & Co., Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., despite reporting just $25 million in revenue for the year ended April 2021.
At least on paper, that makes it the fifth-biggest financial company in the world, trailing Berkshire Hathaway Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp. and Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd.
While those firms have a long list of shareholders, AMTD Digital has a convoluted ownership structure that ultimately leads to one key name: Calvin Choi, an ex-UBS Group AG banker, who’s currently fighting an industry ban in Hong Kong for failing to disclose conflicts of interest.
Despite that, Choi was on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on July 15, ringing the bell as shares of AMTD Digital were about to begin their upward journey.
They’re since up 14,000% from the initial public offering price of $7.80. The volatile trading continued Wednesday, with the stock rising as much as 26% before closing down 34%, triggering multiple trading halts along the way.
It’s a mystery why the stock has surged, though some analysts have pointed to its tiny public float. It’s also not clear why investment bank AMTD Idea Group, another stock under the AMTD Group umbrella, has joined in the rally, soaring 458% between July 15 and Wednesday’s close.
That stock was the fourth-most-bought company on Fidelity’s trading platform Wednesday despite sliding 11%, indicating that it’s become a favorite of retail traders.
AMTD Digital didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment. It said in a statement Tuesday that it’s monitoring the market for any trading abnormalities and doesn’t know of any “material circumstances, events, nor other matters” that could be affecting the stock price.
Choi joined AMTD Group Co. in 2016 as chairman and chief executive officer after spending five years at UBS.
Created in 2003 with backing from Li Ka-shing’s CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd., it’s the parent of AMTD Digital and AMTD Idea Group, which is listed both in Singapore and the US.
AMTD Idea also has well-known backers. Century City International Holdings Ltd., owned by members of Hong Kong’s real estate tycoon Lo family, holds a 5.8% stake in the firm. A unit of Morgan Stanley invested in a funding round in 2019.
Choi, a Hong Kong native and Canadian citizen who studied accounting at the University of Waterloo, is the sole owner of a vehicle that controls 32.5% of AMTD Group.
His father is also involved after a company that belongs to him acquired a majority stake in it in 2015. AMTD Group owns 50.6% of AMTD Idea, which in turn owns 88.7% of AMTD Digital.
AMTD’s convoluted corporate structure Source: Bloomberg
Choi has been a fixture at annual financial technology events in Singapore in recent years.
At an event co-organized by the Monetary Authority of Singapore, AMTD Group was among the biggest sponsors for three consecutive years through 2019, when Choi spoke on panels with executives including Standard Chartered Plc Chief Executive Officer Bill Winters.
Earlier this year, though, Hong Kong regulators banned Choi from the securities industry for two years for failing to disclose conflicts of interest in transactions he worked on while at UBS. He’s appealing the decision.
China Minsheng Investment Group Corp., an AMTD Group investor that installed Choi as CEO, turned against him and at one point placed banners in Hong Kong’s central district denouncing him.
Separately, Hindenburg Research has blasted AMTD Group. In an April 2021 report on Ebang International Holdings Inc., a China-based crypto company, the short seller said its track record as an underwriter was “abysmal,” with 87% of its US IPOs resulting in losses.
Choi admitted in a statement last year that he’s faced challenges.
“There are those who envy and [are] jealous, and those who are cold-eyed and mockers, and malicious, there are slanderers,” he said. “However, entrepreneurs must insist that development is the last word.”
AMTD’s surge has those from Hong Kong to New York speculating about what, if anything, is behind the moves in the stock. One explanation is that only a small portion of its shares are available for trading.
“The stock is highly overvalued,” said Thomas Nip, a research analyst at Valuable Capital Ltd. in Hong Kong. “The low free float in the company’s shares means it will be easier for big shareholders to push up the stock price.”
While the recent rally in the US was reminiscent of the retail trading mania that drove up shares of companies including GameStop Corp. last year, some Reddit and Twitter users appeared baffled by the gains, denouncing claims that the sub-reddit WallStreetBets was behind the moves.
At one point on Tuesday, AMTD Digital’s market value rose above $400 billion, while AMTD Idea shares surged as much as 520%.
“Given the speed of its ascent, I have a feeling this one will nosedive,” said Oktay Kavrak, director at Leverage Shares. “I hope investors take profits along the way as the inevitable crash will send HKD back to relative obscurity.”