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China's AgBank on track for world IPO record

by Staff Writers
Shanghai (AFP) June 28, 2010
Agricultural Bank of China is on track for the world's largest initial public offering after saying Monday it planned to raise up to 10.1 billion dollars in the Shanghai portion of its share sale.

AgBank -- the last of China's "big four" state lenders to float shares -- plans a dual listing in Shanghai and Hong Kong, which it is estimated will raise more than 23 billion dollars.

The bank said in a statement to the Shanghai stock exchange that it had set a price range of 2.52 to 2.68 yuan (37 to 39 US cents) a share for the Shanghai IPO.

Dow Jones Newswires reported that it would sell up to 25.57 billion shares in Shanghai, which would see it raise up to 68.5 billion yuan, or 10.1 billion dollars.

Last week, the bank set the range for the Hong Kong portion of the IPO at 2.88-3.48 Hong Kong dollars a share (37-44 US cents), which would raise as much as 13.08 billion US dollars, Dow Jones reported.

This means AgBank's monster share sale is now expected to overtake the 22-billion-dollar offering by Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) in 2006, which currently stands as the world's largest.

Eleven so-called cornerstone investors -- including Qatar's sovereign investment fund, British bank Standard Chartered and Hong Kong's richest tycoon Li Ka-shing -- are pouring money into the massive sale, ahead of the bank's trading debut in Hong Kong and Shanghai next month.

Estimates for the IPO -- which starts Wednesday -- had ranged from about 19 billion dollars to 30 billion dollars as market volatility left a key question mark over the sale's chances of smashing previous records.

Some analysts consider the rural lender to be the weakest of China's big banks owing mainly to its bad-loan burden.

But investor optimism that markets may have bottomed out could help the sale, said Aaron Boesky, chief executive of China-focused hedge fund Marco Polo Investments.

"Retail interest should surprise on the upside, based on cheap pricing and current perceptions regarding a bottom in the market," he told Dow Jones.

The size of the cornerstone investors' commitment -- about 5.45 billion US dollars -- combined with heavy interest from retail investors could make it tough for some institutional buyers to get their hands on a worthwhile chunk of the offering, Boesky added.

"There will be little room for the mid- and small-size managers, which is shocking considering the size of the listing," he was quoted as saying.

Other analysts noted however that the amount the sale looks set to raise is well off the highest earlier estimates.

"I'm afraid investors aren't keen on the bank's agricultural-related businesses," said Shen Jun, a strategist at BOC International (China) Ltd.

Analysts say the return on capital from rural loans is typically 20-30 percent less than that for loans in urban areas as the size of the loans is generally smaller and monitoring costs higher.

The share sale comes after Hong Kong's bourse, faced with growing competition from Shanghai in recent years, claimed top spot as the world's largest IPO market last year, raising almost 32 billion US dollars.

But market volatility has also seen several companies shelve Hong Kong IPOs in the past two months.

Swire Properties, a major real estate developer in the territory, aborted a planned 3.09-billion US dollar share sale last month, just two days after Giti Tire, China's largest tyre maker, shelved a 500-million dollar IPO.

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