* Minsheng vice chairman spent $1.1 bln to lift bank stake last week
* Baoneng-Vanke style takeover struggle unlikely - J.P. Morgan
* Hong Kong shares of Minsheng at 11-month high (Add details of stake purchase, analyst comment)
HONG KONG, July 21 (Reuters) - China Minsheng Banking Corp’s vice chairman Lu Zhiqiang spent $1.1 billion last week to buy its shares, the bank has disclosed, raising speculation of a looming power struggle at the country’s biggest private lender.
China Oceanwide Holdings Group Co Ltd, controlled by Lu, bought 843.93 million Shanghai-listed shares of Minsheng last week for 7.5 billion yuan ($1.12 billion), increasing its holding to 4.61 percent as of July 15, the bank said on Wednesday. The purchases were disclosed to the Hong Kong stock exchange, where also Minsheng is listed.
Lu’s purchases fuelled speculation in the Chinese media that there could be a tussle for control at Minsheng, where Anbang Insurance Group is the biggest shareholder with a 15.54 percent stake as of end-2015.
The situation could be much like the corporate tug-of-war being played out at China Vanke, the mainland’s biggest property developer, the media said.
China Oceanwide and Minsheng could not be reached immediately for comment.
Vanke is seeing a protracted but rare high-profile corporate power struggle for a mainland Chinese company, after conglomerate Baoneng boosted its stake to 25 percent to become its biggest shareholder.
But in a phone interview with Bloomberg on Tuesday, Lu dismissed talk of a power struggle, saying his stock purchases reflected his confidence in Minsheng. He added that the comparison with the Vanke situation suggested that some people were “over sensitive” to his purchases.
“I will not act in concert with anyone,” Lu said, adding he had agreed with Anbang on “many aspects” of the development of the bank.
Some analysts also said Minsheng was unlikely to see a similar battle.
“We do not expect this to be another Baoneng-Vanke style hostile takeover,” J.P. Morgan wrote in a research note released this week. It said its major shareholders have worked together for the past 20 years and Lu’s stock purchases could be related to getting bigger board representation ahead of an impending board reshuffle.
Shares of China Minsheng gained 0.1 percent in Shanghai by Thursday afternoon, while its Hong Kong shares rose 1.3 percent to their highest since August last year. ($1 = 6.6722 Chinese yuan renminbi) (Reporting by Donny Kwok; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Muralikumar Anantharaman)
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