CLSA eyes Southeast Asia push with $10 billion Manila airport project

HONG KONG (Reuters) - CLSA, the offshore platform of Chinese investment bank CITIC Securities 600030.SS, is working on the finance for a new $10 billion airport in Manila as part of its push into Southeast Asia and China's ambitious Belt and Road initiative.

FILE PHOTO: A Philippine Airlines passenger plane takes off at Ninoy Aquino International airport, Metro Manila September 16, 2014. REUTERS/Erik De Castro/File Photo

In an interview this week, CLSA chairman Tang Zhenyi told Reuters that CLSA also planned to open new offices in Vietnam, Pakistan and Dubai this year as the Asia-focused broker continued its expansion into investment banking.

Introduced in 2013, the Belt and Road project is aimed at building a modern-day economic “Silk Road”, connecting China by land and sea to Southeast Asia, Pakistan and Central Asia, and beyond to the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

Beijing has called on financial firms to develop overseas lending businesses to help connect China with old and new trading partners including the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The Manila airport project, to be developed south of the Philippine capital, is still awaiting government approval but CLSA has held preliminary talks with potential Chinese backers for the deal, Tang said.

“It looks like we are in good shape to do this. It’s a $10 billion minimum project,” he said. “Citic and CLSA are in the perfect position to talk with all the Chinese financial institutions.”

Tang and CLSA did not give the location or further details of the project. Local media have reported competing airport proposals are currently being studied by the Philippines government.

The involvement in the airport project by CLSA, which was bought by CITIC Securities in 2013, comes at a time it is aggressively expanding its investment banking advisory services beyond its broking origins, by leveraging its China ties.

“China has the capital, [it] has the market. These countries have the need,” he said, referring to the ASEAN countries’ push to boost infrastructure investments.

Tang, who worked for China’s Ministry of Finance and for the World Bank in Washington before joining Citic Group in 2011, became chairman of CLSA in November 2016.

Last year, the company returned to its CLSA branding, dropping the name Citic CLSA, although it does operate as the international arm of CITIC Securities.

As part of its strategy to grab a bigger share of investment banking deals in Asia, CLSA is also in talks with Pakistan’s ministry of finance to help the country sell Panda bonds - debt sold by foreign entities to investors in mainland China.

Tang said CLSA is in the middle of a transformation, and plans to add up to 15 bankers in Southeast Asia this year as it seeks to diversify from its Chinese roots. Of its 120 current bankers, about 80 are involved with China-related projects and 40 with ASEAN business.

“We are hoping by adding more ASEAN content into the whole company, we will see it more 50-50 (between ASEAN and China)”.

Reporting by Jennifer Hughes and Sumeet Chatterjee; Editing by Shri Navaratnam