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Bank reforms moving steadily
By Xu Dashan (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-07-17 02:18

Bank of China, the country's largest foreign exchange bank, said on Friday its share-holding reforms have gone steadily during the first half of this year.

Spokeswoman Zhou Ning said the bank has basically finished clearing its asset liability sheet.

During the January-June period, the bank wrote off 108.4 billion yuan (US$13 billion) worth of non-performing assets in the category of loss.

It also sold 149.8 billion yuan (US$18 billion) worth of non-performing loans in the category of doubtful, she said.

By the end of June, the bank's non-performing asset rate dropped to 5.46 per cent, down from 16.29 per cent at the beginning of this year.

The bank also managed to raise its capital adequacy rate to 8.3 per cent by issuing 14.07 billion yuan (US$1.7 billion) worth of subordinated debt.

Spokesman Zhu Min said to create a clean balance sheet was just the first step of the bank's share-holding reform efforts.

More works need to be done in establishing good corporate governance and reforming the institution's human resource management, he said.

Spokesman Wang Zhaowen said the bank is still in talks with foreign investors about a stake sale in its planned initial public offering.

"Several foreign companies have shown strong interest in taking stakes in our banks," he said.

Strategic partners should be chosen by the of next month, he said earlier.

Bank of China, which won a US$22.5 billion bail-out from the government in late December, was chosen by the central government as a pilot project to become a joint stock bank.

Dong Chen, an analyst with China Securities, said China's big-four State-owned banks will have to sharpen their competitive abilities before foreign banks can enter the Chinese market without restrictions at the end of 2006.

"They will have to lower their rates of non-performing loans (NPLs), get rid of historical financial burdens and raise their capital adequacy levels to international standards," he said.

The country's commercial banking laws stipulate that commercial banks' capital adequacy ratios will have to reach 8 per cent, the minimum required by the Basel Capital Accord reached by international banking managers.

This means China's commercial banks, especially the big-four banks, will have to achieve that goal before they can be listed, Dong said.

Zhu said Bank of China aims to meet international standards for capital adequacy, bad loan provisions and bank liquidity by the end of the year.

During the first half of the year, the bank earned 32.9 billion yuan (US$3.96 billion) in operating profits, an increase of 16.1 per cent from a year ago.

Dong said the increased profit was good for China's State-owned banks, because it would help increase the banks' capital adequacy levels and reduce the banks' non-performing assets.

China Construction Bank, another major State-owned bank which has a plan to go public, said its operating profits rose year-on-year 32 per cent to 32.8 billion yuan (US$3.95 billion).

By the end of June, the bank's non-performing asset rate dropped 5.69 percentage points from the first quarter to reach 3.08 per cent.

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