Chinese "bad bank" shares soar in debut on hope No. 2 economy's slowdown will lift profit

HONG KONG – A Chinese bad-debt management company’s shares soared in their Hong Kong debut Thursday, highlighting strong investor appetite for a business that will flourish if the world’s No. 2 economy stumbles.

China Cinda Asset Management’s shares rose 27 per cent to close at 4.50 Hong Kong dollars ($0.58) after rising as much as 34 per cent during the day.

The state-owned company is China’s first ever distressed asset management company to go public.

It’s a so-called “bad bank,” one of four big entities originally tasked with moving nonperforming loans off the books of China’s state-owned banks.

Cinda raised HK$18.5 billion ($2.4 billion) from its stock offering, making it the biggest initial public offering in Hong Kong this year.

There was exceptionally high interest from local retail investors, whose demand for the shares was 160 times the number available, and big institutional investors, whose portion of the global offering was “significantly oversubscribed,” according to a filing with Hong Kong’s stock exchange this week.

The company offers investors a new twist on China’s growth story that has been based for decades on the promise of supercharged economic expansion.

Investors are betting the company, which makes money buying up distressed assets at a discount and reselling them for a profit, will benefit from rising levels of bad debt as China’s economy undergoes an uneven recovery after slowing to a two-decade low in the second quarter.

The country’s leaders say they’re comfortable with that slower pace. They are trying to shift the economy from reliance on exports and investment in favour of domestic consumption.

In its prospectus, Cinda said net profit last year rose 8 per cent to 7.3 billion yuan ($1.2 billion). The company looks set to benefit as the number of loans in China going sour rises further.

Nonperforming loans at Chinese banks surged to 563.6 billion yuan ($93 billion) in the July-September quarter, 18 per cent more than the year before, according to data from the China Banking Regulatory Commission. However, they accounted for less than 1 per cent of total loans as overall bank lending continued to grow.

“Investors are clearly attracted to Cinda’s IPO, which is also driven in part by the novelty factor,” said Mark Chan, a partner specializing in corporate finance at law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner.

“It is definitely tempting for other asset managers to follow suit, especially if Cinda is able to continue performing well after its listing.”