Insurers bite into ABC's huge IPO

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The Agricultural Bank of China said Monday that it had attracted subscriptions from big insurers and other major companies for the Shanghai portion of its initial public offering, helping to ensure that the issuance would not cause disruptions to local markets.

ABC's roughly US$20 billion Hong Kong-Shanghai IPO has hung over the Shanghai stock market in past weeks, as investors worry that an influx of additional shares could keep the overall market - one of the world's worst performers this year - from having a chance of reviving any time soon.

ABC President Zhang Yun sought to ease such concerns in an "online roadshow" yesterday, answering questions posed by retail investors in an online chat.

Up to 10.2 billion yuan-denominated shares will be sold via a placement to strategic investors, including top insurers, agricultural firms and other major companies, Zhang said, accounting for nearly half the overall A shares on offer.

That meant that, even if the offer is priced at the top of the price range for the A-share offering of 2.52-2.68 yuan (37-40 US cents) per share, the overall offering would not be too big, Zhang said.

"The market should have adequate ability to handle the offering," he said.

Zhang did not name the firms that would be participating as strategic investors, but indicated that the country's third-biggest bank by assets was seeking investors that would help it stick to its roots as a lender focused on the vast countryside.

Zhou Qingyu, head of ABC's agriculture-related business, added that while the IPO would raise enough capital to support rapid growth over the next three years, it could turn again to capital markets down the road.

"We will also consider external fundraising if conditions are beneficial and allow us to do so. The tools include issuance of common shares, convertible bonds and subordinated bonds," Zhou said.

The Hong Kong portion of the bank's IPO was 10 times oversubscribed by institutional investors during the first week of book building.

Cornerstone investors have already taken up US$5.45 billion of the Hong Kong portion of the IPO, leaving a relatively small portion for other investors.

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