China to revamp 4th bank in preparation for offering

By David Barboza (New York Times)
Updated: 2007-01-22 14:08

SHANGHAI - China said over the weekend that the last of four big state-owned banks would be financially restructured to prepare it for a public stock listing.

A branch of the Agricultural Bank of China in Shanghai. [newsphoto/file]
Three of the largest banks sold shares in 2005 and 2006, offerings that raised more than US$40 billion and were among the most successful initial public stock issues anywhere.

The fourth financial institution, the Agricultural Bank of China, which has more than US$500 billion in assets and upward of 500,000 employees, could go public as soon as next year, some analysts said.

The bank, which is closely tied to the country's struggling rural economy, was once dismissed as a candidate for public listing because it was China's most troubled bank. It has had the largest percentage of problem loans, or loans that are not producing income, and a record of fraud and mismanagement.

But at a high-level financial working group conference in Beijing, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao announced on Saturday that the Agricultural Bank's overhaul and listing would be pushed forward.

The decision, reported by state-run news media, did not come as a complete surprise. Many analysts had predicted that the Beijing authorities would press for the revamping and public listing of the bank, amid calls by foreign investors for stakes in China's banking industry.

In the last two years, some of the world's largest financial institutions - including Citigroup, UBS, HSBC, Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch - have invested billions of dollars to acquire minority stakes in big Chinese state-controlled banks ahead of public listings.

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