ABC stable in trading debut

Updated: 2010-07-15 14:38
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SHANGHAI- State-owned Agricultural Bank of China Ltd held steady in its trading debut Thursday after raising up to $22.1 billion in a mammoth initial public offering despite the global crisis and concern about its profitability.

The IPO went ahead in the face of uncertain global conditions after regulators allowed China's banks to raise new capital following a lending boom last year. Other banks also plan share sales to raise billions of dollars.

Agricultural Bank failed to enjoy the double-digit first day bounce that some new Chinese listings get and was down 1.1 percent at midday on the Shanghai Stock Exchange -- a minimal change by the volatile standards of China's markets, where prices routinely swing by up to 10 percent a day.

"The market is not specifically excited about Agricultural Bank," said Zhang Jixiu, a banking industry analyst for Hongyuan Securities in Beijing. "The stock price is very stable."

ABC sold 25.4 billion shares in Hong Kong and 22.2 billion shares in Shanghai, raising $19.2 billion. Underwriters hold additional shares, which would raise the total to $22.1 billion if an overallotment option is exercised.

The global IPO record of $21.9 billion was set in October 2006 by another Chinese State-owned lender, Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd.

Investor concern that there is not enough demand for the flood of new banking shares has helped to depress Chinese markets. The market benchmark, the Shanghai Composite Index, is down about 25 percent from the start of the year.

China's banks are viewed as the world's strongest after they avoided the credit turmoil that battered Western institutions.

Agricultural Bank is the last of China's "big four" State-owned commercial lenders to have an IPO. It is viewed as weaker and less profitable than ICBC and its other urban-based counterparts. Its nonperforming loan ratio is higher than other major banks at about 3 percent.

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In its offering, the bank emphasized its links with major State companies and growing income from insurance, investment banking and other services. It reported assets totaling $8.5 trillion by the end of 2009.

"It's understandable that investors have concerns over Agricultural Bank's profitability, but as it urbanizes, I think Agricultural Bank will gradually show its dominant resources in the long term," said Chen Haifeng, a fund manager at CapitalEdge Investment management Ltd in Shanghai.

Institutional and retail investors were attracted by China's growth prospects despite its stock market doldrums.

In the Hong Kong offering, major investors include the Qatar Investment Authority ($2.8 billion), Kuwait Investment Authority ($800 million), Britain's Standard Chartered Bank ($500 million), Dutch bank Radobank Nederland ($250 million), Australia's Seven Group Holdings Ltd ($250 million) and Singapore's Temasek Holdings ($200 million).

Chinese banks have announced plans to raise more than $40 billion from investors in Hong Kong and Shanghai to rebuild their capital after lending a record 9.6 trillion yuan ($1.4 trillion) in 2009.

Bank of China Ltd said July 2 it will raise up to 60 billion yuan ($8.9 billion) with a rights issue to its shareholders. Construction Bank of China Ltd, announced a similar rights issue in April to raise up to 75 billion yuan ($11 billion).