| SINGAPORE, March 24
SINGAPORE, March 24 Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp
Ltd (OCBC), Singapore's second-biggest lender, said a
relaxation of Chinese bank ownership rules could prompt it to
raise its stake in Bank of Ningbo Co Ltd to above 20
OCBC, No. 2 to DBS Group Holdings Ltd by assets,
is trying to expand outside its core markets of Singapore and
Malaysia on which it relied last year for about 80 percent of
In China, the world's second-biggest economy, the bank is
waiting for regulators to approve a January proposal of
increasing its Ningbo stake to 20 percent from 15 percent.
OCBC would be keen to boost its stake even further if China
raised its 20 percent foreign ownership limit.
"In the event that they are willing to relax it we are quite
interested to increase our involvement," Chief Executive Samuel
Tsien said at the Reuters ASEAN Summit on Monday.
"It is a very good partner bank for us. They are in the
China's banking system - like its broader economy - has
undergone a series of reforms in recent years as the government
increasingly leans toward market forces.
Tsien did not say whether he is expecting an increase in the
ownership cap soon, but said he does not expect foreigners to be
able to own majority stakes in Chinese lenders.
OCBC's recent cross-border merger-and-acquisition attention
has been focused on Hong Kong where the increasing dominance of
multinational banks has pushed small family-owned lenders to
OCBC has been in talks to buy Wing Hang Bank Ltd
for what sources close to the deal estimated at $5.3 billion -
an OCBC record.
The pair has twice extended the deadline for any agreement,
and with the latest deadline of March 31 looming, OCBC on Friday
said they have still not reached a deal.
Tsien on Monday declined to comment on the matter, but said
he expected fairly significant market growth in Hong Kong,
Taiwan and China.
"China's economic activity is really driving the economic
activities of Asia right now plus the fact that Chinese
companies' desire to move offshore has also created additional
opportunities for us," Tsien said at the summit, held at the
Reuters office in Singapore.
Speaking about Singapore's slowing housing market, Tsien
said new mortgages have fallen by about 40 percent but as
customers are still drawing on pre-committed loans, the impact
will only be felt next year.
"If the market continues to be in a very low activity level
the mortgage loan volume will start to show up in our balance
sheet probably in the second half of next year," he said.
Shares of OCBC closed up 1.1 percent in Singapore on Monday
compared with a 1.4 percent rise in the benchmark stock index
. The shares have fallen 7.8 percent so far this year,
underperforming rivals DBS and United Overseas Bank Ltd
(Editing by Christopher Cushing)