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Sat, Nov 18, 2006 - Page 10 News List

Citigroup to acquire majority stake in PRC regional bank

AP , NEW YORK

Citigroup Inc, the US' largest banking institution, confirmed on Thursday that a Citigroup-led consortium has been selected to acquire a majority stake in one of China's biggest regional financial institutions, Guangdong Development Bank (GDB, 廣東發展銀行).

The consortium will acquire an 85.6 percent stake in GDB for 24.267 billion yuan, or US$3.06 billion, Citigroup said.

New York-based Citigroup itself will hold a 20 percent stake -- under the 25 percent maximum allowed by Chinese government regulations. International Business Machines Corp, headquartered in Armonk, New York, will have a 4.74 percent share. Meanwhile, two China-based companies -- China Life Insurance Co (中國人壽) and State Grid Corp (國家電網) -- will each get 20 percent stakes, while Beijing-based CITIC Trust (中信信託) will hold 12.85 percent and Yangpu Puhua will get 8 percent.

GDB, which is owned by the provincial government, has more than 500 branches and about US$48 billion in assets.

Citigroup had been fighting since last year to buy the Chinese bank and the announcement of the deal signals that it will be able to greatly expand its operations in China. Citigroup currently has branches in just six Chinese cities.

It bested a competing bid from a consortium led by France's Societe Generale AG.

A signing ceremony was held in Guangzhou.

Citigroup said in a statement issued in New York that "this transaction represents the first time a major international financial services company, leading a consortium of co-investors, has been permitted to obtain substantial ownership and assume a significant management role in a Chinese financial institution."

William Rhodes, a senior vice chairman of Citigroup, called it "a tremendous opportunity."

Robert Morse, chief executive of Corporate & Investment Banking for Asia Pacific, called it "a positive outcome for all stakeholders involved, including the Guangdong Government, GDB's management, employees, customers, shareholders and the new investors."

As Beijing gradually opens its banking industry to foreign competition, Chinese banks have sought out international lenders as strategic investors to draw in both money and management skills.

The agreement -- which is still subject to regulatory approval -- allows Citigroup to work with GDB on a daily basis to enhance its management team and corporate governance standards, improve operational and lending practices, upgrade the bank's information technology and further develop customer service.

IBM's stake amounts to a roughly US$170 million investment. IBM hopes that the new connection to GDB leads to lucrative services deals with the bank as it modernizes its technology infrastructure and business practices in coming years.

The deal also reflects the technology company's broader interest in strengthening potential Chinese customers by stimulating the country's overall economy.

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