Posted on Nov 18, 2011 by Sergio Ulloa
New China Life Insurance, the country's third largest life insurer by premium volume, received approval from the China Securities Regulatory Commission this week for its planned Shanghai initial public offering, kicking off the company's Shanghai-Hong Kong dual listing that has targeted up to US$4 billion in fresh fundraising before the end of the year. This dual listing could be the first in a series of IPOs by prominent Mainland insurance companies, as firms seek out capital to boost margins and fund expansion plans in the world's second largest economy.
In their IPO prospectus, New China Life have outlined how they plan to sell as many as 158.5 million shares in Shanghai (A-share offering) and up to 358.4 million in Hong Kong (H-share), with an option to expand it further by another 15 percent. According to industry analysts, the A-share market has proven to be more sensitive to New China Life's IPO, accounting for only 5 percent of the company's total shares, and is in part why the company has allocated a smaller share to Shanghai's bourse. While overall fundraising targets have not been officially set, market forecasts estimate that around CNY6 billion (US$945.4 million) and CNY10 billion could come in from Shanghai from Hong Kong respectively.
Many companies from Mainland China are now attempting to brave volatile global financial market conditions and sell shares in initial public offerings to fund future business ambitions. Indeed, the two largest Chinese insurance companies and New China Life's chief rivals, Ping An Insurance and China Life Insurance, are already listed on both overseas and domestic bourses. Beijing-headquartered New China Life's IPO could even lead the rest of Greater China's insurers to market sooner that expected. According to industry observers, there could be over US$10 billion worth of new dual share offerings in Hong Kong and Shanghai coming to the market over the next few quarters from domestic insurance companies alone. State-backed China Reinsurance and People's Insurance Company (PICC) announced plans to raise between US$5 billion and US$6 billion through a dual IPO back in July this year. Taikang Life Insurance, the Asian nation's fifth-largest insurer by premiums, have meanwhile also targeted between US$3 billion and US$4 billion from a Hong Kong listing in the next couple of years.
New China Life will use the IPO proceeds to replenish capital reserves and improve solvency margins and overall profitability in order to better keep pace with the firm's rapid business growth. The Beijing-based fine insurer earned CNY93.6 billion (US$14.3 billion) in premium income last year, translating to around a 9 percent share of the country's insurance market, according to the China Insurance Regulatory Commission (CIRC). The company, 15 percent owned by Zurich Financial Services, has been largely successful in adapting to China's surging insurance market demand, reporting a compound annual premium growth rate of 40 percent over the past 5 years, from 2005 and 2010. New China Life has fostered a competitive advantage in institutional sales and now has a particularly robust presence in the big cities of Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. Today, New China Life has 1,400 offices in China and serves over 24 million policyholders.
Over the past few years however, the performance of some of China's most prominent insurers has begun to slow down due to rising competition and unstable stock markets. Indeed New China Life posted a 15 percent decline in net profit last year and has not been able been able to regularly meet regulatory requirements on adequacy ratios. Ahead of their planned dual IPO the company has had to restructure themselves slightly in a bid to meet CIRC minimum solvency requirements, which have restricted dividends and further business development. In March, the life insurer moved CNY 14 billion (US$2.2 billion) worth of shares to twelve existing shareholders through a rights issue. The transaction increased New China Life's registered capital base, up to CNY 2.6 billion (US$405 million) from CNY 1.2 billion (US$187 million), which in turn raised its solvency margin to above the required minimum 100 percent for listing. After the IPO, the company's solvency ratio is expected to be above 150 percent.
New China Life's dual IPO will surely test investor confidence as international financial markets continue to struggle with a potential US recession, Asia Pacific catastrophe losses, as well as the deepening debt crisis in Europe. American and European markets have been in a prolonged slump as concerns mount over Western policymakers' ability to adapt and revitalize the flagging global economy. This is turn has affected the regional markets in Asia. The Heng Seng Index is down by 15 percent so far this year, while The Shanghai Composite has fallen over 8 percent. This market downturn has impacted Hong Kong's prominent IPO market, with delays and cancellations worth US$19 billion in share sales from prominent companies already witnessed this year.
Outside of these macroeconomic concerns though, China's insurance industry remains an attractive investor opportunity due to the country's huge middle class population, favorable economic indicators and a largely under-penetrated protection market. Market observes will be watching closely to see if New China Life can dual list in Hong Kong and Shanghai successfully this year.
Insurance Company Mentioned
New China Life
New China Life Insurance Co., Ltd (NCI?has headquarters in Beijing and was established in 1996. It is a large national insurance company, with products including traditional protection products, bonus products as well as the products that have a strong financial management function. With sustained, healthy and harmonious development of the company, the brand value of NCI is a valuable asset.
Zurich Financial Services Group is an insurance and financial services provider with a network of subsidiaries and offices in North America and Europe and also in Asia-Pacific, Latin America and other markets. Zurich is one of the world's largest insurance groups, and one of the few to operate on a truly global basis. With 60,000 employees serving customers in more than 170 countries, our business is concentrated in three business segments: General Insurance, Global Life, and Farmers.