China's Postal Savings Bank nears $8 billion stake sale ahead of IPO

HONG KONG (Reuters) - State-owned Postal Savings Bank of China (PSBC) is expected to soon close the sale of a 15 percent stake mainly to foreign investors ahead of a planned up to $20 billion IPO in Hong Kong in 2016, people with knowledge of the matter said.

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The stake sale, which the sources said was worth $8 billion, indicates foreign demand for Chinese financial stocks remains resilient even as the economy slows.

It also comes after the triple listing of Japan Post Holdings and its two financial units, which raised $12 billion for the Japanese government.

“You will always find demand for these types of deals,” said one of the people with direct knowledge of the PSBC transaction who, like the others, declined to be named because details remain confidential. “Chinese financials are such an important part of the economy and the stock market.”

Citing unnamed sources, Thomson Reuters publication IFR had reported on Wednesday that UBS AG UBSN.VX had put up $2 billion for the stake sale - the single largest investment - and placed some of the shares with buyers including Hong Kong tycoons.

Other investors in the group included Singapore's Temasek Holdings [TEM.UL], JPMorgan JPM.N and the International Finance Corp (IFC), a unit of the World Bank, IFR added.

UBS, Temasek and JPMorgan, declined to comment. IFC did not immediately respond to requests for comment. It was not immediately possible to contact the relevant PSBC officials.

Owned by the state-run China Post Group Corp, PSBC has about 500 million clients - or nearly half of China’s entire population - and the most extensive banking network in the country. Total assets stood at of 6.8 trillion yuan ($1.1 trillion) at the end of September, its website shows.

PSBC’s focus on consumers, and not the manufacturing or real estate sectors favoured by other big state banks, enhances its growth prospects as the government shifts the economy away from manufacturing-led growth towards a more consumption-driven model, bankers said.

Its focus on savings accounts also provides a steady source of funding in the slowing economy, they added.

China has previously introduced strategic partners into its large state-owned banks and financial institutions before listing them to bolster investor confidence and improve management best practice.

These include the 2014 sale of stakes in bad debt manager China Huarong Asset Management Co Ltd to Goldman Sachs and private equity firm Warburg Pincus ahead of its IPO this year.

Reporting by Fiona Lau of IFR; Writing by Elzio Barreto; Editing by Susan Fenton and Miral Fahmy