BEIJING/SHANGHAI, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the world's largest bank by assets, said on Thursday that it has no plans to use its own money to repay investors in a troubled off-balance-sheet investment product that it helped to market.
ICBC's shares have fallen this week amid speculation that the bank would be forced to help repay investors in a 3 billion yuan ($496.20 million) high-yield investment product issued by China Credit Trust Co Ltd but marketed through ICBC branches. The product is due to mature on Jan. 31.
"Regarding this unsubstantiated rumour, a situation completely does not exist in which ICBC will assume the main responsibility (for the trust product)," an ICBC spokesman told Reuters by phone on Tuesday.
The trust product, called "2010 China Credit / Credit Equals Gold #1 Collective Trust Product", used the funds it raised from wealthy investors in 2010 to make a loan to unlisted coal company Shanxi Zhenfu Energy Group Ltd.
But in May 2012, Zhenfu Energy's vice chairman, Wang Ping Yan, was arrested for accepting deposits without a banking licence.
Following an investigation, China Credit Trust told investors that Zhenfu Energy had taken out high-interest underground loans totaling 2.9 billion yuan, bringing its total liabilities to 5.9 billion yuan and threatening its ability to repay the trust loan.
China's coal industry has been battered by falling prices over the last year. Several other banks and trust companies are facing losses on loans to another coal company, Liansheng Resources Group.
Analysts have expressed increasing concern in recent years about Chinese banks' exposure to off-balance-sheet risks.
While trust products and other so-called wealth management products typically don't carry a formal guarantee from banks that help to create and sell them, bankers worry that investors widely perceive them as carrying an implicit guarantee from state-owned banks.
That means that banks may face pressure to shield investors from losses in order to protect their reputations, even if they are not legally required to do so.
$1 = 6.0460 Chinese yuan Reporting by Xie Heng and Gabriel Wildau; Editing by Jacqueline Wong