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Cannabis groups race to become first to win London listing

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Cannabis companies are vying to be first of their kind to list on the London Stock Exchange after the UK financial watchdog last year gave the green light to manufacturers of products that use the drug for medical purposes.

Kanabo, which is developing a means to distribute cannabis-derived products for medical patients through vaporisers, is in talks with investors during a roadshow ahead of an expected initial public offering next month. 

MGC Pharmaceuticals, which sells THC tinctures and is developing a cannabis-based epilepsy drug, is in the final stages of preparing to list in London and hopes to raise up to £5m.

The country legalised medicinal cannabis in 2018 but companies in the sector struggled to tap into the UK capital market owing to uncertainty over listing regulations. This prompted the Financial Conduct Authority to set out rules last September that would open the door to those providing the drug for medical use.

Tel Aviv-based Kanabo will be floated through a reverse takeover of a special purpose acquisition company (Spac) called Spinnaker Opportunities, which listed on the LSE in 2017.

Kanabo, which also sells products for CBD consumers in the UK and Germany, has been in talks with the FCA since the ruling. Although the start-up is still awaiting final approval from the regulator, founder Avihu Tamir said the FCA had given enough reassurance to proceed with the IPO plans. 

Mr Tamir said the FCA had been “great” to work with and had provided clear guidance about what was needed to list in London.

The European medical cannabis market was valued at €330m in 2020, according to data provider Brightfield Group. The market for CBD, a cannabinoid that is not classified as a drug and can be sold over the counter, was valued at €1.4bn in the same year, according to Hanway Associates.

The money that MGC is looking to raise will be used to fund phase 2 clinical trials of its cannabis-based epilepsy drug as well as a phase 3 trial of a plant-based treatment for Covid-19 and other infectious diseases that give rise to pneumonia.

“Most of our operations and manufacturing is in Europe, so it makes sense to have the base here, and the LSE is one of the largest stock exchanges in the world,” said MGC Pharma’s chief executive Roby Zomer.

The company, which was founded in 2015, had originally turned to Australia for funding as the cannabis market in Europe at that time was in its infancy.

Emmac, one of Europe’s largest cannabis groups, has also previously flagged its intention to float in London. 

Antonio Costanzo, co-founder and chief executive, told the Financial Times that “we have a few options on the table and one is listing in London”, adding that the FCA’s announcement last year had been “welcome”.

The second licence under UK rules — and the first in more than 20 years — has also recently been granted to grow medical marijuana on a commercial basis. Jersey-based start-up Northern Leaf was in December awarded the permit to grow cannabis for medical use by the government of Jersey under UK Home Office rules. It plans to start supplying drugmakers in the UK, Denmark, Germany, Spain and Portugal by the end of this year.

“Demand is increasing globally and the market is currently undersupplied,” said Campbell Dunlop, chief executive.



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Instacart valued at $39bn in funding round ahead of IPO

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Grocery delivery app Instacart has raised $265m from its existing investors, doubling the company’s valuation following the pandemic boom in demand.

Instacart, the US market leader in the grocery app sector, said the round valued the company at $39bn, up from $17.8bn at the time of its previous fundraise, which closed in November last year.

The company said it intended to use the money to increase its corporate headcount by about 50 per cent this year, a hiring spree that would be spread across the business.

The cash injection comes as the company lays the groundwork for a long-anticipated initial public offering. In January, it announced it had hired Goldman Sachs banker Nick Giovanni as its new chief financial officer. Giovanni had previously been involved in IPOs from Airbnb and Twitter.

“This past year ushered in a new normal, changing the way people shop for groceries and goods,” Giovanni said in a statement announcing the latest round.

“While grocery is the world’s largest retail category, with annual spend of $1.3tn in North America alone, it’s still in the early stages of its digital transformation.”

The company declined to comment on its timetable for going public.

Last week, Instacart added its first independent board members — Facebook executive Fidji Simo, and Barry McCarthy, a former finance chief of streaming platforms Spotify and Netflix.

Notably, McCarthy was the architect of Spotify’s 2018 direct listing, a process by which a company goes public without creating any new shares.

Over the past year, Instacart has been a key beneficiary of lockdown conditions, with many physical retailers restricting walk-in access to stores.

To accommodate the demand, Instacart’s gig workforce has swollen to more than 500,000 across the country. Over the course of 2020, the company said it added more than 200 retailers and 15,000 additional locations to its app.

However, the company faces growing competition from other delivery apps — such as Uber — and other online grocery offerings from retailers such as Walmart and Amazon.

And, as pandemic conditions subside, interest in online grocery shopping may tail off, suggested Neil Saunders, a GlobalData analyst. He also warned that Instacart is at risk of being forced out by grocery stores once they have their own ecommerce strategies more firmly in place.

“Paradoxically, the drive online has actually made retailers a lot more interested in investing in their own systems,” Saunders said. “If retailers decide to go it alone, it leaves Instacart out in the cold.”

The company said it would use the latest funding to increase its investment in its fledgling advertising business, as well as Instacart Enterprise, its “white label” service for companies that want to use Instacart’s logistics with their own branding.

The round was led by Andreessen Horowitz, Sequoia Capital, D1 Capital, Fidelity, and T Rowe Price.



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UK listing rules set for overhaul in dash to catch Spacs wave

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A Treasury-backed review of the City has called for an overhaul of company listing rules so London can better compete against rivals in New York and Europe and grab a share of the booming market for special purchase acquisition vehicles.

The review, to be published on Wednesday, also proposes allowing dual-class shares to give founders greater control of their businesses and attract a wave of tech companies to the London market.

The City’s attractiveness has stumbled in recent years as the US and Hong Kong have swept up the majority of in-demand tech listings. New York’s markets have been further swelled this year by a surge of so-called Spacs, which raise money from investors and list on a stock market, then look for an acquisition target to take public. Britain’s edge also has been eroded by a loss of trading businesses to European rivals since Brexit.

Rishi Sunak, chancellor, who commissioned the independent report, said the government was determined to enhance the UK’s reputation after leaving the EU, “making sure we continue to lead the world in providing open, dynamic capital markets for existing and innovative companies alike”.

The review, which was carried out by Lord Jonathan Hill, former EU financial services commissioner, has recommended a wide range of reforms to loosen rules that have tightly governed listings in the UK.

Lord Hill has recommended lowering the limit on the free float of shares in public hands to 15 per cent — meaning founders need to sell fewer shares to list — and wants to “empower retail investors” by helping them participate in capital raisings. 

He has also proposed a “complete rethink” of company prospectuses to cut regulation and encourage capital raising, and suggested rebranding the LSE’s standard listing segment to increase its appeal. The chancellor should also produce an annual “State of the City” report.

The government said it would examine the recommendations — many of which require consultations by the Financial Conduct Authority.

Lord Hill also recommended that the FCA be charged with maintaining the UK’s attractiveness as a place to do business as a regulatory objective. 

The FCA said it aimed to publish a consultation paper by the summer, with new rules expected by late 2021. 

Lord Hill said the proposals were designed to “encourage investment in UK businesses [and] support the development of innovative growth sectors such as tech and life sciences”.

He said the UK should use its post-Brexit ability to set its own rules “to move faster, more flexibly and in a more targeted way”, in particular for growth sectors such as fintech and green finance.

However, the recommendations will cause concern among some institutional investors which have argued that loosening rules around dual-class shares, for example, will risk lowering corporate governance standards. 

The review said London needed to maintain high standards of governance, with various ways recommended to mitigate risk. On dual shares, for example, it recommended safeguards such as a five-year limit.

Amid fears that the government could go too far with a drive for deregulation, Lord Hill said his proposals were “not about opening a gap between us and other global centres by proposing radical new departures to try to seize a competitive advantage . . . they are about closing a gap which has already opened up”.

Other recommendations include making it easier for companies to provide forward-looking guidance when raising capital by amending the liability regime, and improving the efficiency of the listing process. 

The inclusion of a recommendation to help Spacs list in London by no longer suspending shares after a target is picked will be welcomed by many investors.

However, the rapid growth of such vehicles loaded with billions of dollars in speculative cash has also raised concerns about a bubble forming in the market.

Lord Hill said there was a risk that the UK was losing out on “homegrown and strategically significant companies coming to market in London” from overseas Spacs.

The UK has lagged behind New York and Hong Kong in attracting the types of companies from sectors, such as technology and life sciences, that dominate modern economies and attract investors seeking growth stocks. 

London accounted for only 5 per cent of IPOs globally over the past five years, while the number of listed companies in the UK has fallen by about 40 per cent since 2008. The review also pointed out the most significant companies listed in London were either financial or representative of the “old economy” rather than the “companies of the future”. 

Lord Hill referred to the flow of post-Brexit business to Amsterdam to make the point that the UK faced “stiff competition as a financial centre not just from the US and Asia, but from elsewhere in Europe”.

The steps represent a win for the London Stock Exchange Group, whose chief executive David Schwimmer has called for a more competitive listing regime. He said it was possible to strike a balance between being competitive and maintaining high corporate governance standards.



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Quorn owner Monde Nissin plans record Manila debut share offer

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The Philippines’ top instant noodle producer and owner of UK meat substitute maker Quorn plans to raise as much as $1.5bn from what would be a record initial public offering in Manila.

Monde Nissin, which produces Lucky Me! instant noodles and SkyFlakes crackers, said on Thursday in an IPO prospectus that it would sell 3.6bn shares at up to 17.50 pesos each to raise a total of up to 63bn pesos ($1.3bn).

The listing could raise as much as $1.5bn if banks on the deal exercise an option to sell 540m additional shares.

At $1.3bn, the IPO would already be the largest by a Philippine company as well as a record debut share offer in Manila.

Monde Nissin said the funds raised would be used to boost production at its flagship noodle brand in the Philippines and to increase capacity at Quorn, which Mondo Nissin acquired in 2015 for £550m.

Quorn has enjoyed strong demand in recent years, bolstered by high-profile domestic hits including a “vegan-friendly” sausage roll sold at bakery chain Greggs. Quorn has also partnered with Liverpool Football Club to offer meat-free meals on match days.

But it has struggled to turn out enough of its fungus-based meat substitute to move substantially beyond its retail customer base, even as competitors such as Beyond Meat have clinched deals with chains including McDonald’s.

“They just don’t have enough supply; in the US [in particular] that’s really held them back,” said one banker on the deal, pointing to the limited rollout of a Quorn-based vegan burger known as “The Impostor” through a partnership with KFC.

The banker said Quorn was “going to attack the US much more aggressively” once it boosted capacity. Assuming sufficient supply, there was a long list of fast food clients who would “adopt Quorn because it’s competitive on the chicken side”, the banker added.

The listing, which is expected to price in April, would be the latest big offering in what bankers say is on pace to be one of the strongest years yet for IPOs in south-east Asia — one of the first regions outside China to be hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, and which is expected to be among the first to emerge from it.

ThaiBev, the drinks group, is poised to list its brewery business in Singapore in a deal expected to raise about $2bn and potentially value the unit at up to $10bn, people familiar with the matter told the Financial Times in January.

The Monde Nissin IPO is a rarity for the Philippines in that the entirety of the base offering will be new shares, rather than being sold off by existing shareholders.

Pre-IPO stakeholders include Betty Ang, the company’s president, and the family of her Indonesian husband — the son of Hidayat Darmono, who founded Indonesia’s dominant biscuit maker Khong Guan.

Both Ang and her extended family keep a notoriously low profile. One banker on the deal described Ang and her relatives as “very, very private”.

Bookrunners on the Monde Nissin IPO include UBS, Citigroup and Credit Suisse.



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