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Energy, Mining on Cards for Orient
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Orient Group, the parent company of leading Chinese home improvement chain Orient Home, will enter energy and mining industries this year, said a top company executive.


The energy and mining operations, mainly in oil resources and non-ferrous metals, will become a key sector for Orient Group in the near future, Zhang Hongwei, Orient Group's board chairman, told China Daily.


"We might even explore energy resources abroad," Zhang said.


He made the remarks on the sidelines of the annual session of the National Committee of the CPPCC, which closed yesterday.


Orient Group is also in talks with foreign investors to sell a stake in its Orient Home retail chain, which plans to list overseas in two to three years, he said.


Orient Group was the first Chinese private company to list its shares on a Chinese stock exchange in 1994. It is also a major shareholder of China Minsheng Banking Corp, the nation's first private lender; New China Life Insurance, the country's fourth-largest life insurer; and Jinzhou Port in Liaoning Province.


The energy and mining operations are expected to become a major sales contributor for Orient Group, along with its financial operations, Zhang said.


Orient Home had been negotiating with US home improvement chain Home Depot about the stake sale. But the negotiation collapsed due to, according to insiders, Zhang's insistence on retaining his own brand.


Home Depot finally bought a smaller Chinese chain Home Way at the end of last year. The acquisition gave the world's largest home improvement retailer an immediate presence in China, with 12 stores in six cities.


"We welcome foreign strategic investors, no matter whether they are also home improvement retailers or investment funds," Zhang said.


"I don't mind who is the largest stakeholder. The point is we must keep the Chinese brand," Zhang added.


Orient Home was founded in 1998 and operates 25 stores around the country.


Most apartments purchased in China are semi-finished. The country's home improvement market is growing more than 20 percent annually and is valued at nearly US$50 billion.


Orient's shares yesterday rose 2.44 percent to close at 13.02 yuan.


(China Daily March 16, 2007)


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