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HSBC to sell stake in China insurer Ping An for $9.4 bn

05 december 2012, 14:38
0
©REUTERS
©REUTERS
Britain's HSBC said Wednesday it would sell its stake in China's second largest life insurer Ping An for $9.4 billion, as it looks to shift its focus back towards its traditional banking business, AFP reports.

The lender said in a statement it will sell its entire 15.57 percent holding in Ping An Insurance Group to Thai conglomerate Charoen Pokphand Group at HK$59 ($7.66) a share, a two percent premium to its Tuesday closing price.

Ping An recently hit the headlines after the New York Times said last month that relatives of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao had gained from its Hong Kong listing in 2004 by buying stock at a discount before the sale.

Ping An has denied those claims and threatened legal action against the US newspaper.

HSBC Group Chief Executive Stuart Gulliver said in the statement the Ping An sale would benefit shareholders, but added that China remained "a key market for the group".

He said the firm would "strengthen our focus on growing our own operations and building on our long-term strategic banking partnership with the Bank of Communications", China's fifth largest lender, in which HSBC has a 19 percent stake.

The bank has been selling non-core assets as part of a broad restructuring plan designed to boost profitability.

"They can unload their non-core assets and resources to refocus on their main business, which is banking," Tanrich Securities Vice President Jackson Wong told AFP.

London-listed HSBC is also setting aside hundreds of millions of dollars as provision for fines related to possible criminal charges over money-laundering allegations in the United States.

Shares in Ping An climbed after the announcement. It was up 2.25 percent at HK$58.95 in Hong Kong on Wednesday morning, while it rose 2.7 percent to 38.38 yuan in Shanghai.

Last month the New York Times reported the chairman of Ping An wrote in 1999 to Wen, who was vice-premier at the time, and met his wife as the government considered a decision on whether to split up the company.

After the lobbying, it said, the government granted Ping An a waiver from a requirement that large financial companies be broken up.

Following the decision an investment vehicle -- later controlled by relatives of Wen -- bought shares in Ping An at a significant discount, long before most other investors could buy into it, the report said.

Ping An said of the report that "recent media coverage related to the company" contained "serious inaccuracies, facts being distorted and taken out of context, as well as flawed logic".

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