Ping An Insurance is braving the fragile equity market and weakened investor confidence in mainland offerings to launch its share sale in Hong Kong to raise up to US$1.5 billion. Pre-marketing for the global offering by the mainland's second-largest insurer should start next week after the Hong Kong stock exchange yesterday gave the Shenzhen-based firm the approval to list, sources said. The timing of Ping An's offering comes as expectations of rising interest rates and plunging confidence in global equity markets led to the cutting back of four mainland-backed IPOs - China Shipping Container Lines, China Mengniu Dairy, Shanda Interactive Entertainment and CSMC Technologies. The four originally planned to tap up to a total of US$2.7 billion in the Hong Kong and Nasdaq markets but have trimmed that back to about $1.89 billion. Controversy and shareholder lawsuits stemming from China Life Insurance's failure to disclose a state audit into its predecessor before its New York and Hong Kong flotations in December last year have also dented investor faith in the disclosure and corporate governance standards of mainland insurers. Ping An will become the last of the mainland's top three insurers to go public, following China Life and PICC Property and Casualty which listed in Hong Kong last year. The sources said Ping An would sell about 25 per cent of the company in the flotation. Including the almost 25 per cent it sold to four strategic foreign investors - HSBC, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Dai-Ichi Mutual Life Insurance - foreign owners would hold 49 per cent of Ping An after listing, they said. They said it was hoped the offer could command a valuation higher than that paid by HSBC when it acquired a 10 per cent stake in Ping An in 2002. The US$600 million deal is priced on 2001 price-earnings multiples of 17 times, or 8.5 times price to book, according to analysts, valuing Ping An at $6 billion. The issue is underwritten by Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, HSBC and BOC International.