Investors stay away after sale of HKCB

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 November, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 November, 2001, 12:00am

A cloud continues to hang over the future of Hongkong Chinese Bank Holdings, as its share price ended the week at a 33.9 per cent discount to the proceeds due to the group from selling its bank.

The group's shares closed yesterday at HK$2.05, up 2.5 HK cents on the day but discounting one-third of the HK$3.10 proceeds per share expected once the sale of its wholly owned Hongkong Chinese Bank (HKCB) to Citic Ka Wah Bank is completed.

It also valued the rump of the business left behind after the sale - consisting mainly of a small stockbroking operation - at zero, said analysts.

'The market is signalling its deep concern over the future of the group after the sale of HKCB,' said Indosuez W.I. Carr analyst Ines Huang.

Minority shareholders appeared to be crying 'foul' over the deal, said Salomon Smith Barney analyst Michael Siu.

The disposal of HKCB was complicated by a back-to-back deal between major shareholders in the listed holding company, Lippo and China Resources Enterprise (CRE), which would see Lippo buy out its former partner at HK$3.80 a share to take a 64.6 per cent stake in the holding company, he said.

The problem, said analysts, was that not much remained to be held after the disposal, since the small stockbroking business that remained was expected to contribute less than 7 per cent of group profits for this year.

Critics of the deal said Rule 14.35 of the stock exchange's listing rules stated 'an issuer or group [other than an investment company], whose assets consist wholly or substantially of cash or short-dated securities and which thus ceases to trade, will not normally be regarded as suitable for listing'.

In response, Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing told Business Post that it did not comment on individual cases, but added it would continue to monitor the deal under the existing listing rules.

Despite the consequences of the transaction, which will result in proceeds to the holding company of HK$4.2 billion, Lippo was not represented at the conference announcing the deal, and members of its controlling Riady family have not answered calls either from the media or analysts to explain what their intentions with the group are now that it has sold its bank.

Compared with Lippo's HK$3.80 buyout of CRE, minority shareholders were looking 'less fortunate', said Mr Siu.

'Hongkong Chinese Bank Holdings intends to retain its listing, but questions regarding the company's future under Lippo's rule hang in the air,' he said.

The sale has been approved by a simple majority vote exercised by Lippo and CRE but is expected to be consumated only in January.