Citigroup wins battle for China bank

Updated: 2006-11-16 22:34

One man reads a newspaper whilst another passes a sign outside a Beijing branch of US-based Citibank, part of Citigroup, the world's biggest bank. A consortium led by US banking giant Citigroup has signed a deal to buy a controlling stake in China's Guangdong Development Bank after a lengthy battle, banking sources said. [AFP]

BEIJING - A consortium led by US banking giant Citigroup has signed a deal to buy a controlling stake in China's Guangdong Development Bank after a lengthy battle, banking sources said.

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"I can confirm that we signed an agreement this afternoon with Guangdong Development Bank along with our consortium," a Citigroup spokesman told AFP while declining to be named. "We will have a press statement soon."

Other sources also confirmed the deal after they attended a signing ceremony Thursday arranged by the Guangdong provincial government in the provincial capital of Guangzhou.

"They signed the deal today," a source at the ceremony said.

The source said the agreement calls for the Citigroup consortium, which also includes domestic and foreign allies, to take 85.59 percent of the beleaguered south China bank.

Societe Generale had led a rival group in bidding for the bank, with the battle for the stake between both groups going on since last year.

No financial details of the Citigroup arrangement were made public, but China Life, China's biggest insurer, International Business Machines (IBM) and the State Grid Corp, a major Chinese electricity provider, were named as part of the consortium, sources said.

Guangdong Development Bank officials were not immediately available for comment.

Citigroup will now take control of the Guangdong bank's 500 branches as China opens up its retail banking sector to foreign banks in accordance with its 2001 accession requirements to the World Trade Organization.

The American bank, the world's biggest, in December last year bid 24.1 billion yuan (3.06 billion dollars) for an 85 percent stake in the ailing lender, but the bid had to be revised due to limits on foreign ownership of Chinese banks, previous reports said.

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that computing giant IBM was looking at taking a 5.0 percent in the bankrupt Guangdong lender as part of its efforts to expand in China.

IBM's expertise was seen as helping the bank upgrade its computer systems and improve its risk management, it said.

Citigroup had hired former US president George Bush to lobby on its behalf.

China's state-run Xinhua news agency said on November 1 that Citigroup had been cleared by Chinese regulators to buy the Guangdong bank, but Societe Generale insisted days later that it was still in the running.

But Xinhua said Citigroup would secure with its wholly-owned subsidiary Associates First Capital a share of no more than 25 percent of the bank, in accordance with Chinese banking regulations.

The offer from Societe Generale and its partners, including petroleum giant Sinopec and top steelmaker Shanghai Baosteel Group Corp, also amounted to about three billion dollars, including 600 to 650 million dollars from the French bank.

Both groups had been counting on the government to make an exception in state-mandate stake restrictions that limit foreign consortium holdings to more than 25 percent of a local bank.

But in May the Chinese authorities insisted the two consortiums respect the current regulations.

A single foreign bank cannot hold more than a 20-percent stake in a Chinese bank.

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