Insurance novice Charoen Pokphand Group is Beijing's friend

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 December, 2012, 7:39am

The Charoen Pokphand Group, which bought HSBC's 15.6 per cent stake in Ping An Insurance, is a newcomer to the insurance business. It is better known for its chicken meat and animal feed.

The Thai-based conglomerate can trace its roots to China as its founders, brothers Chia Ek Chor and Chia Siew Whooy emigrated from Guangdong to Thailand.

In 1921, they set up a small seed shop called Chia Tai Cheung in Bangkok's Chinatown. The company gradually expanded into producing animal feed and other livestock, including chicken, ducks and shrimps. It is among the largest producers of animal feed, shrimp and poultry worldwide.

The group employs more than 280,000 people and invests in 15 countries, making more than US$33 billion annually. Its poultry and animal feed arm CP Pokphand listed in Hong Kong in 1988.

The company was among the first foreign firms to enter the mainland in 1979 - just one year after the economic reform was unveiled. Its first focus was on animal feed and other agricultural business but it later expanded into motorcycles, supermarkets, telecommunications and finance. It has had a banking business in China since 1992.

The group, however, has until now had no insurance business, so the investment in Ping An - China's second-largest insurer - is considered a big play to expand its financial arm.

CP Group chairman Dhanin Chearavanont is the son of founder Chia Ek Chor.

He and his family are among the wealthiest people in Thailand and have strong links with Chinese leaders because of their early investment in China. Dhanin also has led the group to expand into other markets of Asia, Europe and the United States.

The listed CP Pokphand was hard hit by the 1997 Asian financial crisis and the outbreak of bird flu. Since restructuring in early 2000, the group's focus has been its core retail and animal feed and livestock production businesses.

CP now has more than 100 feed mills and five fully integrated poultry businesses as well as seed shops in China.