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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, December 11, 2013 10:24 pm

China "bad bank" IPO offers bet on slowdown

By KELVIN CHANAP Business Writer

A Chinese bad-debt management company's shares soared in their Hong Kong debut Thursday, highlighting strong investor appetite for a business that will flourish if the world's No. 2 economy stumbles.

China Cinda Asset Management's shares jumped 27 percent to 4.56 Hong Kong dollars ($0.59) after trading started.

The state-owned company is China's first ever distressed asset management company to go public.

It's a so-called "bad bank," one of four big entities originally tasked with moving nonperforming loans off the books of China's state-owned banks.

Cinda raised HK$18.5 billion ($2.4 billion) from its stock offering, making it the biggest initial public offering in Hong Kong this year.

There was exceptionally high interest from local retail investors, whose demand for the shares was 160 times the number available, and big institutional investors, whose portion of the global offering was "significantly oversubscribed," according to a filing with Hong Kong's stock exchange this week.

The company offers investors a new twist on China's growth story that has been based for decades on the promise of supercharged economic expansion.

Investors are betting the company, which makes money buying up distressed assets at a discount and reselling them for a profit, will benefit from rising levels of bad debt as China's economy undergoes an uneven recovery after slowing to a two-decade low in the second quarter.

The country's leaders say they're comfortable with that slower pace. They are trying to shift the economy from reliance on exports and investment in favor of domestic consumption.

Cinda looks set to benefit as the number of loans in China going sour rises further.

Nonperforming loans at Chinese banks surged to 563.6 billion yuan ($93 billion) in the July-September quarter, 18 percent more than the year before, according to data from the China Banking Regulatory Commission. However, they accounted for less than 1 percent of total loans as overall bank lending continued to grow.

"Investors are clearly attracted to Cinda's IPO, which is also driven in part by the novelty factor," said Mark Chan, a partner specializing in corporate finance at law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner.

"It is definitely tempting for other asset managers to follow suit, especially if Cinda is able to continue performing well after its listing."