(Adds detail, background)
* Novartis has consulted Chinese government on IPO-sources
* China one of six priority emerging markets for Novartis
* International board may host only 10 companies initially-local media
By Samuel Shen and Soo Ai Peng
SHANGHAI, July 12 (Reuters) - Swiss drugmaker Novartis AG is considering a possible initial public offering in China, joining a growing list of multinationals eyeing a listing on Shanghai’s planned international board, two people with knowledge of the situation said.
Novartis is studying the feasibility of a China IPO and has been consulting relevant government agencies, said the sources, who declined to be identified because the information is not public. Novartis spokesman Eric Althoff declined to comment.
Selling shares in China would enable Novartis to raise money to fund rapid expansion in China and for potential acquisitions, as it competes fiercely with rivals such as Roche Holding AG and Eli Lilly in the country.
Having its shares traded on the Shanghai Stock Exchange could also help Novartis promote its brand in a country where concerns over food and drug safety constantly haunt consumers.
China is among the six countries identified by Novartis as priority emerging markets for the company, where combined net sales grew 12 percent in 2010 to $4.6 billion, accounting for 10 percent of the firm’s global sales, its annual report said. Novartis expects that proportion to double in five years.
China may launch the international board as soon as this year or next year as the country wants to boost the global profile of the yuan currency and further liberalise its capital markets.
Shang Fulin, Chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, said recently the international board was “coming closer and closer” to the market.
Global firms, including HSBC , Standard Chartered , Unilever and Coca-Cola Co have already expressed interest for a listing on the international board.
China may allow about 10 foreign companies to list on the board initially, local media reported earlier this year, citing draft rules on the board.
Foreign companies might be allowed to use proceeds from an international board listing for their offshore operations subject to approval from the forex regulator, the 21st Century Business Herald reported in April, citing the draft rules.
Basel, Switzerland-based Novartis employs more than 5,000 people in China and has invested more than $700 million in the country, betting that rising income among its 1.3 billion people will boost health awareness and drug consumption.
In March, Novartis paid $125 million in cash for a majority stake in Chinese vaccines company Zhejiang Tianyuan Bio-Pharmaceutical Co, establishing a foothold in China’s $1 billion-a-year vaccines market, the world’s third largest. (Additional reporting by David Lin; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)