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UPDATE 3-China Rail Construction debuts up 12 pct, disappoints

(For expanded IPO diaries, click <HK/IPOMENU> <CN/IPOMENU>) (Adds quote, closing price)

HONG KONG, March 13 (Reuters) - Shares in China Railway Construction Corp 1186.HK, which built the world's highest railroad, rose 12 percent on their Hong Kong debut on Thursday, in line with lowered expectations, after the firm raised a combined $5.4 billion in a Hong Kong and Shanghai IPO.

The uninspiring debut amid a broader Hong Kong market .HSI that fell 4.8 percent is expected to curb enthusiasm for other upcoming issues, with one broker saying the shares would have had to have closed up by about 20 percent to reassure investors.

The IPO is the world’s largest this year and the most popular ever among Hong Kong’s retail investors, despite a shaky market that has seen more than $23 billion in global IPO plans postponed or withdrawn in 2008, according to Thomson Financial.

“If it can’t close near HK$13, most of the big-cap IPOs like Pacific Insurance can forget about raising money in the first half. It’s a key indicator,” said Steve Cheng, associate director at Shenyin Wanguo.

China Pacific Insurance 601601.SS on Monday delayed a planned $4 billion Hong Kong share sale due to the weak market, but two other firms -- China's Evergrande Real Estate and Taiwan snack maker Want Want China Holdings -- are raising $2.1 billion and $1.4 billion, respectively, in ongoing Hong Kong IPOs.

This year’s lacklustre IPO market follows two blockbuster years for deals in Hong Kong and Shanghai.

“In any normal market, a 20 percent upside is seen as quite healthy, but with the excesses of last year, people will view it as a disappointment -- even though they should not,” said Andrew Clarke, a trader at Societe Generale Securities.

Shares in China Railway Construction ended at HK$12 after reaching as high as HK$12.66 in the morning, compared with a Hong Kong IPO price of HK$10.70, which had been at the top of an indicated range. The debut is only the third of the year in Hong Kong, and several deals have been delayed or scrapped.

Heavy retail oversubscription meant local investors who applied for shares using margin financing needed to see a higher gain in the share price in order to break even.

Investors who subscribed for 1 million shares at a 4 percent margin interest rate would break even only if the shares rose to HK$12.19, given that large-lot subscribers received only 0.57 percent of the shares they sought.

“The return on margin financing is not encouraging. Investors will avoid doing so on the upcoming IPOs,” said Steven Leung, director of institutional sales at UOB-Kay Hian.

DUOPOLY BUILDERS

Investors had rushed to buy IPO shares in the company because China Railway Construction and its duopoly rival, China Railway Group 0390.HK601390.SS, are beneficiaries of Beijing's heavy spending on a transport infrastructure that has been unable to keep up with the country's surging economy.

China Railway Construction's 601186.SS Shanghai shares rose a weaker-than-expected 28 percent in their debut on Monday, from an IPO price of 9.08 yuan. The stock ended at 11.99 yuan on Thursday, 32 percent above its IPO price.

The company, builder of the Qinghai-Tibet railway, the world’s highest, raised more than $3 billion in mainland China’s 11th-biggest IPO.

It raised $2.3 billion from its Hong Kong offering, generating orders worth $68.6 billion from retail investors alone to rank as the most popular IPO among individuals in the city.

Its closing price in Hong Kong valued the firm at 32 times forecast 2008 earnings, close to China Railway Group's 32.7 times, and higher than the 28.8 times PE for top ports builder China Communications Construction Group 1800.HK.

South Korea's Daewoo Engineering & Construction Co Ltd 047040.KS trades at 13 times projected 2008 earnings, while Gammon India GAMM.BO trades at 24.7 times forecast profit.

Hong Kong's benchmark Hang Seng Index .HSI has dropped about 20 percent so far this year, after jumping 39 percent last year, amid global financial turmoil.

China CITIC Securities 600030.SS sponsored both the Shanghai and Hong Kong portions of the offering, while Citigroup C.N and Macquarie Bank MQG.AX handled the Hong Kong IPO.

China, aiming to ease bottlenecks caused by its surging economy, earmarked more than 5 billion yuan for transport infrastructure spending in its 2006-10 five-year plan, including 1.25 trillion yuan for railways, or four times the amount under the previous five-year plan.

The fragility of China’s transport links was exposed by snowstorms earlier this year that crippled the movement of people and goods in large parts of the country.

While China Railway Construction's IPO is on track to be the world's largest since Spanish green energy firm Iberdrola Renovables IBR.MC raised $6.5 billion in December, it would be surpassed by the potential $18.8 billion share sale planned by U.S.-based Visa Inc, the world's largest credit card network. (US$1=HK$7.8=7.0951) (Reporting by Kennix Chim and Rita Chang; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree & Ian Geoghegan)

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