* Biggest IPO since AIA Group’s $20.5 bln offer in 2010
* Company seeking Hong Kong exchange nod on Thursday
* Pre-marketing scheduled for March 31 (Adds Asia-Pacific deal volumes, estimated fees)
By Fiona Lau and Denny Thomas
HONG KONG, March 26 (Reuters) - Chinese pork producer W.H. Group, which acquired U.S.-based Smithfield Foods last year, has hired 28 book runners for its planned $5-6 billion Hong Kong initial public offering, a record number for banks working on an Asian IPO, IFR reported.
W.H. Group’s jumbo underwriting team would surpass the previous record of 21 banks that worked on China Galaxy Securities Ltd’s $1.1 billion IPO last year, IFR, a Thomson Reuters publication, said on Wednesday.
The recent decline in Asian IPOs has seen a jump in the number of underwriters working on individual deals. That has meant commissions and fees are being divided among more investment banks.
Equity underwriting had been a booming business for global investment banks since 2000 when many state-run Chinese enterprises flocked to Hong Kong to sell shares.
Asian IPO volumes peaked in 2010, when companies raised $165 billion through public offerings, declining to $45 billion last year, according to Thomson Reuters data.
That has given issuers the upper hand in selection of banks and deciding fees.
In some cases, the number of book runners have been more than needed as issuers look to preserve banking relationships when handing out mandates, even as they add new underwriters to the roster on a deal, according to people familiar with the IPO process.
W.H. Group, formerly known as Shuanghui International, is set to seek approval from the Hong Kong stock exchange’s listing panel for its planned offer on Thursday, IFR reported.
The IPO would allow W.H Group to pay down debt borrowed for the $4.7 billion Smithfield purchase and provide an exit for investors such as CDH Investments, one of China’s biggest and oldest private equity firms which has long aimed to sell its stake in the company.
W.H. Group is tentatively scheduled to start pre-marketing the deal on March 31, with bookbuilding set to start on April 7, if it wins approval from the regulator, IFR reported, citing sources familiar with the matter.
The company aims to wrap up the transaction before the Easter holidays, IFR said.
At $6 billion, W.H. Group IPO would be the biggest Hong Kong listing since insurer AIA Group Ltd raised $20.5 billion in 2010.
BOC International, Citic Securities International, DBS, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Standard Chartered and UBS are the sponsors for the offer.
They would join Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Rabobank, Barclays, CICC, Deutsche Bank, ICBC International, Credit Suisse and JP Morgan as joint global coordinators.
There are 13 other book-runners, according to IFR.
A typical Hong Kong IPO earns between 2-3 percent in underwriting commission, which puts fees from W.H Group at up to $180 million. Most of the of fee will be shared between the top 15 banks.
CDH owns 33.7 percent of W.H. Group through several funds and has been invested in the company since about 2005. The meat processor also counts New Horizons, founded by Winston Wen, the son of China’s former premier Wen Jiabao, as a private equity investor. New Horizons owns 4.2 percent.
Goldman Sachs’ main investing arm has a 5.2 percent stake, public filings showed. Singapore state investor Temasek Holdings has a 2.8 percent holding. (Reporting by Fiona Lau at IFR; and Denny Thomas; Editing by Miral Fahmy and Ryan Woo)