ALB: What prompted your move to Hong Kong?
Ennis: I relocated from Walkers' Cayman office in October 2020, having previously been seconded to Hong Kong for two years in 2014. I really enjoyed my time here during my secondment, so when an opportunity arose to come back, I didn't hesitate.
Professionally, practicing in Asia has always excited me. The market is constantly evolving and the Finance teams' position as a Tier 1 Finance practice in the region provides a lot of opportunity to work on market-leading transactions where we can really add value for our clients. Although well established in the region, the team here has retained an entrepreneurial spirit and continue to look for new opportunities to better service our clients, which is a great environment to be in as a new Partner.
Personally, there's so much to like about Hong Kong; it's vibrant, safe and very cosmopolitan, not to mention the nature areas and great food scene. It's truly one of my favourite cities and I'm extremely happy to be back.
ALB: 2020 was a big year for IPOs and capital markets. What are your thoughts on the Hong Kong market in 2021? Any trends we can expect?
Ennis: As we all know, 2020 was a challenging year filled with a lot uncertainty in light of the global pandemic. This resulted in a slowing of new issuance volume in the debt and equity capital markets in the early part of 2020. However, we saw a strong rebound in activity from Chinese Issuers, which resulted in strong levels of financing being raised via the debt capital markets and IPOs towards the end of the year.
Whilst it is difficult predict what 2021 will hold, there are early indications of a similarly robust year for the debt capital markets as there were record high issuance levels recorded in the first week of January. It is also expected that we will see existing debt refinanced this year as there are also record high levels due to mature in 2021.
Unfortunately, some industries will continue to experience challenges this year. For example, until there is widespread vaccine rollout, it is likely that airlines will continue to face liquidity shortages in light of their daily cash burn rates, which is said to be in the tens of millions. In 2020, some U.S. airlines adopted innovative financing structures to monetise their loyalty programmes in order to improve their liquidity position. Walkers advised on all the loyalty programme financings in the U.S. market last year and we have seen some interest in this financing structure in the APAC region.
On the IPO side, my Partner in Corporate and Investment Funds, Jo Lit, heads up our IPO practice and was very busy in 2020. In the latter half of the year, we saw increasing interest in Asia for SPACs listing on the NYSE. We expect to see this trend continue into 2021. In terms of Hong Kong listings, with all the recent U.S. sanctions and uncertainty generated by the previous U.S. administration, more Chinese companies currently listed in the U.S. will certainly look to re-list more locally, either in Hong Kong or China, or will consider a dual-listing. There were a large number of take privates in 2020, driven in part by low valuations so there is a good possibility that some of these same companies may look to relist over the next 24 months. These are signs that point to another busy year for IPOs.
ALB: What role do you see your practice playing?
Ennis: As one of the leading banking and finance practices in the region, we regularly advise on Bermuda, BVI and Cayman law aspects of a wide variety of financing transactions for a range of leading financial institutions, private equity sponsors, investors and corporates, which allows us to see a large cross-section of the market and work on innovative transactions. We also work seamlessly with our colleagues in other practice groups to provide specialist knowledge where needed on a range of matters including enforcement, restructuring and regulatory advice. This depth of experience and institutional knowledge makes us well placed to assist companies and onshore law firms at all levels of engagement.
I am also keen to share my experience and know-how advising on novel structures such as the loyalty programme financings I mentioned earlier.
ALB: For you and your team, what are the priorities for the year?
Ennis: Our priorities have not really changed over the years; we continue to focus on our people, our clients and our community. We are, at heart, a people business and without a healthy and happy workforce, we wouldn't be able to do what we do. We continually look for ways to support our staff both professionally and personally, with a particular focus on training and mentorship and building a diverse and inclusive workplace through our various D&I initiatives. In terms of our clients, we strive to maintain our top-level service and the commerciality of our advice. Whether it's making investments in people and systems or bringing in specialist know-how such as our Asia-based Regulatory team, we always keep our clients front-of-mind. In response to our clients' needs, we recently added significant Bermuda legal capability in Asia with the addition of 25 Bermuda registered associates advising on the full spectrum of corporate, finance, funds and dispute resolution matters from our Hong Kong and Singapore offices. This makes us the second-largest Bermuda offering in the region. The firm also offers Bermuda corporate administration and professional services, in addition to our Cayman services, providing a one-stop solution for clients requiring company formation, registered office and compliance services alongside our market-leading, commercially tailored legal advice. Lastly, we have always prioritised being a good corporate citizen. Through charitable initiatives, providing pro-bono services and our deep commitment to environmental and sustainability initiatives, we are focused on giving back to our community. I'm extremely proud of the commitment Walkers continues to make, particularly in these difficult times, doubling down on our community fundraising efforts to support multiple charities focused on providing grassroots support to the most vulnerable members of our society.
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