It has been an extraordinary year for stock markets, whether it was the gut-wrenching falls experienced in March as reality dawned that Covid-19 was not just confined to China, or the astonishing rally seen in US tech stocks this summer.
<p>Tuesday offered proof that the mania for stocks has not been confined to American investors.</p><p>Shares of Nongfu Spring, China's leading bottled water and soft drinks producer, surged by 85% at one point as they made their debut on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.</p><p>The shares, sold to investors at HK$21.50 (212p), eventually finished the session up 54% at HK$33.10 (327p).</p><p>Demand for the shares was enormous. Retail investors sought to buy 1,148 times as many shares as were being made available while institutional investors applied to buy 60 times as many shares as were being sold.</p><p>The flotation, the fourth most successful on the Hong Kong exchange for a business with a value of more than $1bn, values Nongfu at just under $48bn (£37bn).</p><p>To put that in context with other major drinks companies, Heineken, the world's second largest brewer, has a stock market valuation of £40bn, while Carlsberg, the world's third-largest brewer, has a market value of £16bn.</p><p>It also values the company at more than Danone, the French consumer goods company behind Volvic and Evian mineral water, whose stock market capitalisation is just £35bn.</p><p>Paras Anand, chief investment officer for the Asia Pacific region at the asset manager Fidelity, said there had been very strong demand both from retail investors and from institutional investors.</p><p>He told Sky News: "It's one of these very hotly anticipated companies to come to the market. It gives you a flavour that there's still an awful lot of appetite for some of these companies coming to market at the moment."</p><p>The IPO catapults Nongfu Spring's founder and biggest shareholder, Zhong Shanshan, to number three in the rankings of China's billionaires.</p> <p>He now lags only <a href="https://news.sky.com/story/alibaba-on-track-despite-trade-war-hit-to-china-economy-11622640" target="_blank"><strong>Jack Ma</strong></a>, the founder of e-commerce and fintech businesses Alibaba and Ant Group and Pony Ma, whose Tencent Group owns WeChat, China's most popular social media apps.</p> <p>Mr Zhong, 65, owns 84% of the company he founded in 1996 and, along with his other assets - which include his controlling stake in the <a href="https://news.sky.com/topic/covid-19-8518" target="_blank"><strong>COVID-19</strong></a> testing kit maker Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise - it means he now has an estimated net worth of $51bn.</p><p>The red-capped bottles of water sold by Nongfu, which is based in the eastern province of Zhejiang, are ubiquitous across China and the drink enjoys a presence in the country comparable with that of Coca-Cola in the United States.</p><p>Nongfu Spring, whose marketing slogan is 'Nongfu Spring tastes a bit sweet', has been the market leader for the last eight years and last year had a near-21% share of China's vast bottled water market.</p> <p>It has also successfully diversified into product categories other than bottled water. Two-fifths of its sales now come from tea, energy drinks and flavoured vitamin drinks and juices.</p><p>One question raised by the flotation is whether Mr Zhong, who is nicknamed 'The Lone Wolf' due to his lack of involvement in either politics or business lobby groups, will adopt a higher profile in future.</p><p>His background is fascinating. He dropped out of school at the age of 12 when his education was disrupted by Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution, during which his parents were 'purged', after which he worked as an apprentice mason and carpenter.</p><p>When college exams were reintroduced, in the late 1970s, he studied at the Zhejiang Radio and Television University before joining the local newspaper, Zhejiang Daily, as a business reporter.</p><p>The experience convinced him that there would be big business opportunities in China as the country's economy was opened up and liberalised by Deng Xiaoping.</p><p>He ran a newspaper and even set up a mushroom growing business before making his first fortune in vitamin pills and health supplements in the early 1990s. he diversified into bottled water in 1996, with a business called Qiando Lake, which evolved into Nongfu Spring - whose name translates into 'Farmer's Spring' - the following year.</p><p>Not only has Nongfu Spring's IPO benefited Mr Zhong. It has also created an estimated 68 millionaires, many of whom work for the company and who were given shares by Mr Zhong last year, while his wife's elder sister, Lu Xiaowei, saw her stake valued at $432m in the IPO.</p><p>His two sisters, Zhong Xiaoxiao and Zhong Xuanxuan, respectively own shareholdings worth $428m and $214m.</p><p>The success of the flotation bodes well for the forthcoming IPO of <a href="https://news.sky.com/story/jack-mas-ant-group-files-for-ipo-and-hell-be-the-biggest-winner-12056551" target="_blank"><strong>Ant Group</strong></a>, Jack Ma's fintech giant, which is expected to come to market next month.</p><p>Mr Anand said: "Ant Group has particular has been keenly anticipated.</p><p>"What we've learned today is that there is likely to be a high level of demand for it.</p><p>"We've been following Ant and Alibaba for a long time - we think these are unique platforms globally in terms of how they operate as broad financial services businesses but with a digital interface with customers. It is one of these long term winners that we like at Fidelity."</p>