HSBC is in talks to sell its $9 billion stake in Ping An Insurance (Group), China's second-largest insurer, as the United Kingdom bank sheds assets to revive profit growth. Europe's largest lender by market value "is in discussions which may or may not lead to the sale of the shares," HSBC said in a statement yesterday. Ping An shares fell as much as 3.5 per cent in Hong Kong trading, the biggest drop since July 23.
HSBC chief executive Stuart Gulliver's attempts to cut costs have been hampered by probes into money laundering and compensation claims, increasing pressure for asset sales. The London-based lender agreed to sell some general insurance units in Asia and Latin America earlier this year.
"HSBC can reinvest the proceeds from the share sale in its organic business in China," said Wilson Li, a Shenzhen-based analyst at Guotai Junan Securities "That would actually generate more benefits than the existing investment in Ping An."
The bank plans to sell all of its 1.23 billion Hong Kong-traded shares in Ping An, which represents about 40 per cent of the insurance company's Hong Kong-traded shares and 15.6 per cent of all Ping An stock, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reported earlier yesterday, citing people it didn't identify.
Charoen Pokphand, controlled by Thai billionaire Dhanin Chearavanont, is interested in buying the stake, according to the HKEJ report. Dhanin's net worth is estimated at $6.1 billion as of November 16, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Sheng Ruisheng, a Shenzhen-based spokesman for Ping An, said the company doesn't have any information relating to changes of shareholders.
HSBC shares gain
HSBC gained 1.4 per cent to 604.3 pence London trading. Shares of Ping An fell 1.9 per cent to HK$58.45, heading for the lowest close since September 26. The insurer's third-quarter profit rose 21 per cent to 2.13 billion yuan as its banking unit contributed more revenue and premium income expanded. An 18 percent increase in Ping An Bank's profit helped Ping An Insurance chairman Peter Ma buffer the effect of a slump in the value of the insurance company's equity holdings as China's economy cooled.
"It's not reasonable for them to dispose of Ping An because first of all, this is a key profit contributor to HSBC," said Steven Chan, an analyst at Citic Securities International in Hong Kong. The gain in HSBC shares signals that some investors are betting "there could be a special dividend if they dispose of Ping An."
Times Of Oman