Thailand's Charoen Pokphand Group yesterday issued a statement reaffirming that it had the means to acquire HSBC's US$9.4 billion stake in Ping An Insurance, in a bid to scotch reports that the deal was unravelling.
"The transaction is still under consideration by the China Insurance Regulatory Commission (CIRC) and we confirm that if approval is received from the CIRC, the CP Group has the necessary resources to complete the transaction," said the statement e-mailed to the South China Morning Post yesterday.
Doubts have been cast on the ability of the unlisted agricultural conglomerate controlled by Thai tycoon Dhanin Chearavanont to pull off the deal.
The Post has reported that state-controlled China Development Bank (CDB) is reconsidering its decision to act as the guarantor for CP amid concerns over the identity of the real buyer.
CP Group said it was acting entirely on its own and "not in concert with, or on behalf of, any third party", after media reports that investors were funding the transaction.
The market reacted with surprise when it emerged last month that HSBC's Ping An stake was in fact worth more than CP Group's net assets, triggering speculation that CP was backed by other, invisible investors.
According to CIRC rules, companies can buy a stake in a Chinese insurer only with their own money, not through bank loans or other third-party financing.
In its statement, CP Group did not say if CDB would continue to support the deal. Market watchers believe HSBC will sell the stake through other channels if the deal with CP is not closed by February 1.
On Thursday, HSBC said the plan to sell the stake to CP remained on track and that it was not aware of any new information related to the deal that needed to be disclosed.
In a statement submitted to the stock exchange, the bank said it was "not aware of any information which must be announced to avoid a false market in HSBC's securities or of any inside information that needs to be disclosed".
Shareholder activist David Webb said: "If the deal is not completed, HSBC will probably pursue a sale through other means, either to a single buyer, a consortium, or in a market placement.
"The completion is conditional on CIRC's approval by February 1, and since CDB and CIRC are both government-controlled, the government could relieve CDB of its obligation by failing to approve the transaction in time."
Both HSBC and CDB as well as CP have been in the media spotlight over the deal, with reports that CDB has actually pulled out and the mainland regulator was poised to reject it amid concerns over the true buyer.
Mainland businessman Xiao Jianhua, who is connected to senior leaders, is rumoured to be a behind-the-scenes buyer.