Good response from institutions

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Despite different reasoning behind the decision to subscribe to the shares of Agricultural Bank of China (ABC), institutional investors have shown strong interest.

Institutional investors and major cornerstone investors, including insurers, fund management companies, brokers, banks, sovereign wealth funds and other major companies, have subscribed to about half of the Shanghai and Hong Kong share offerings.

Insurance companies and fund management companies have taken up 70 percent of the off-line allotment of the A-share offering.

Investors altogether spent more than 30 billion yuan on the initial offering, while insurers have taken up 10 billion yuan of the Shanghai portion of the IPO.

Eleven companies, mostly foreign institutional investors have already taken up $5.45 billion of the Hong Kong portion of the IPO.

Demand for ABC's share offering from overseas investors saw a fervent response.

ABC is "a great bank with a great future", said Peter Sands, chief executive of Standard Chartered.

Though the London-based bank is not so sure whether buying into the local bank will yield the desired results.

It aims to take advantage of ABC's extensive domestic network, in line with the strategy many of his counterparts are using to circumvent the huge cost of building distribution channels in the country.

"Foreign investors risk losing the chance if they don't move. Everybody is looking at the growth story in China. They want a piece of the pie," an analyst with Haitong Securities said.

The current weak stock market and low bank valuations have not impacted institutional investor interest.

"For domestic institutional investors, it's almost the same story," said a fund manager with a fund in Beijing, where ABC is based. He declined to be named as his fund management company is involved in the deal.

"Our fund products are sold in ABC, so we should keep a good relationship and support each other's business," he said.

"And ABC will be included into Shenzhen-Shanghai 300 index, while its a requirement made by the country's regulator for indexation funds to buy into ABC," he said.

"For big insurance firms and securities houses, they have a situation similar to ours," the fund manager said.

Companies, which have related business with the lender, cannot afford to lose the huge number of clients and the big market occupied by the lender.

"Insurance policies and insurance funds are sold by ABC, and brokers win more clients with the help of the bank," he said.

Giant conglomerate China Life Insurance Co invested 4 billion yuan in the bank. It may be one of the largest buyers of ABC's A shares.

"China Life Insurance Co has tried for many years to buy into major banks as a strategic investor, but it never succeeds. This time, it spared no effort to take up ABC's Shanghai portion of shares as it aims to take advantage of ABC's extensive domestic network to develop its insurance business," he said.

ABC has more than 24,000 branches, 441,000 employees and 320 million customers.

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