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China Life IPO seen raising US$3.04b on intense demand
( 2003-12-12 10:37) (Agencies)

China Life Insurance Co.'s initial public offering -the world's largest this year -is expected to raise the maximum US$ 3.04 billion following heavy over-subscription demand from investors.

Pricing and the final level of subscription is expected late Thursday New York time, or early Friday Hong Kong time.

However, the strong demand suggests the company is very likely to see its 6.47-billion share offer priced at the top end of its indicative range of HK$ 2.98 to HK$3.65 apiece.

The institutional tranche has so far been about 15 times covered with orders amounting to more than US$45 billion, a person close to the deal said late Thursday, referring to initial tallies.

The institutional book had closed Wednesday at 0900 GMT for investors in Asia and 1700 GMT the same day for those in Europe. The U.S. portion of the book closes early Thursday in New York.

The IPO's retail portion, which closed at 0400 GMT Thursday, has been subscribed well over 100 times, he said at 1030GMT. Retail investors will be rewarded for their strong interest with an allocation of as much as 20% of the IPO shares, up from the 5% originally planned. Institutional investors will get the remaining 80%, down from the 95% originally allocated to them.

At the top end of the range, the price represents 14 times China Life's 2004 estimated earnings. This will translate into a valuation of 1.45 times embedded value forecast for 2003, or 1.65 times the company's estimated book value for the year.

Embedded value is an industry benchmark in the life insurance industry that measures the sum of an insurer's book value and net present value of profit generated from policies currently in force.

The share offer is equivalent to 25% of its enlarged capital. About 91% of the IPO are new shares while the remaining 9% comes from existing shares sold by its parent China Life Insurance (Group) Co.

Trading in China Life shares will commence Dec. 17 in New York while Dec. 18 in Hong Kong.

The life insurer deal still carries an overallotment option, allowing the sale of an additional 970.6 million shares, amounting to 15% of the offer.

China International Capital Corp., Citigroup, Credit Suisse First Boston and Deutsche Bank are the listing sponsors.

The immense investor interest reflect the expectations for growth by the mainland Chinese largest life insurer, which has a 45% market share in a country whose written premium growth is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 30% in the next three years. That growth will be driven by demographic trends, social welfare reform, a solid economic outlook and an under-penetrated market compared with either Europe or Asia.

China Life had undergone restructuring ahead of the jumbo IPO, in a bid to remove the historical burden of "negative interest spreads," - where high guaranteed returns offered in the 1990s couldn't be sustained as interest rates fell.

Retail investors in Hong Kong were caught up in a frenzy for mainland IPOs this month.

The retail tranche of Great Wall Automobile Holding Co., the country's largest pickup truck and sports utility vehicle maker, has been about 680 times covered, people close to the deal said earlier this week. Shares of Great Wall start trading in Hong Kong on Monday.

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