Bank of East Asia (BEA) is the favourite to secure a stake in Huaxia Bank, which wants to attract outside investors and list on the A-share market this year, Chinese bankers said yesterday. They said that BEA, one of the most active Hong Kong banks on the mainland, wanted a stake of 15 to 25 per cent in Huaxia, a seat on the board and management positions to monitor credit, interest rate and working capital risks. BEA officials in Shanghai and Huaxia's headquarters declined to comment on negotiations with specific investors. 'It is clear that we want a good partner. But whether it will be one or more I cannot say. Once it is decided, then we will announce it,' a Huaxia spokeswoman said. She also declined comment on the timing and size of the listing. The mainland press has put it at one billion shares, with the aim of raising five billion yuan (about HK$4.69 billion). HSBC declined to comment on speculation that the bank is bidding against BEA for a stake in Huaxia. 'The bank still wants to expand in China whether it's through organic growth or acquisitions,' said Hongkong Bank general manager Raymond Or Ching-fai. 'If we come across an acquisition [candidate] that's attractive to us, we would obviously consider it,' he said, adding the bank's growth in China was constrained by market regulations. One Shanghai-based banker said that, like other outside banks, BEA did not want to take a share in the big four state banks, preferring second-tier ones such as Huaxia. 'It likes Huaxia's asset quality and management and its clients are a good fit with those of BEA. It is small enough that a minority stake would give it a substantial say in the management,' he said. 'But, because the detailed guidelines for such investments have not been published yet, each individual application has to go to the State Council for approval. This will increase the time needed. 'The two sides are negotiating and BEA is the favourite.' The Economic Observer reported yesterday that Huaxia's planned listing had been delayed because the bank and its underwriters could not agree on the issue price, with Huaxia wanting a higher price than the underwriters thought the market could bear. The listing, initially expected this month, could happen next month. BEA has been active in the mainland with branches in Dalian, Guangzhou, Xiamen, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Xian and Beijing. It plans to open a branch in Chengdu later this year.