Buddhist shrine IPO

Chinese Buddhist shrine tests investor faith with IPO

Putuo, a sacred Buddhist mountain resort in China, is seeking $118 million from a domestic IPO.
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Guan Yin, the goddess of mercy
<div style="text-align: left;"> Guan Yin, the goddess of mercy </div>

Chinese policymakers have gone to great lengths to prioritise economic development, and the ingenuity of its entrepreneurs is undoubted. But the latest stock market debutante is unusual even for get-rich-quick China — a famed Buddhist resort known as Putuo Mountain is planning to raise Rmb750 million ($118 million).

Like all good Buddhists, Putuo is on a journey of growth and development. The mountain, which rises to the southeast of Shanghai, is one of four sacred Buddhist mountain resorts in China. Each year, shrines on Putuo attract monks and nuns from around the country, and millions of Chinese devotees come to pray before a huge statue of Guan Yin, the goddess of mercy, typically asking for a healthy child or, in particular, a son.

It is unclear whether buying shares in Putuo will help such prayers to bear fruit, but wise investors will focus instead on the resort’s tourism businesses, assuming Chinese securities regulators approve the deal.

The resort’s management, through Putuo Mountain Tourism Development, came up with the plan for a share sale after deep contemplation (or “prudent consideration and a year of preparation”, as reported in official media). The company did not give any timetable for the listing, but officials were quoted as saying that it plans to list soon, as a way to raise the profile of the site and to create jobs in the region.

Putuo is not the first spiritual resort to try to tap the capital markets. Shaolin Temple, considered to be the birthplace of kung fu, had planned to float shares in 2009, but the plan was scrapped after a public outcry. Although it is not a religious site, many Chinese argued that Shaolin is a historical treasure that belongs to everyone and not just to shareholders.

Putuo’s plan has also stirred debate. Officials at the State Administration for Religious Affairs have said that China’s growing economy should be wary of crossing a moral line.

The local government is reported to have been the mastermind behind the plan, citing the importance of local economic development and the business opportunities arising from China’s booming tourism industry, which according to China Tourism Academy jumped 18% year-on-year to Rmb2.3 trillion in 2011.

Emei Mountain, a rival sanctuary, was the first Buddhist resort to seek to raise capital from the public equity market. The Sichuan-based resort’s management listed on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange in 1997.

According to its latest results, Emei’s net profit during the first three months of this year was Rmb9.81 million, up by 6% from a year earlier.

Former leader Deng Xiaoping urged in the 1980s that China should make economic development a priority. Today, that message is being shouted from the mountaintops.

¬ Haymarket Media Limited. All rights reserved.
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