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TRADE WARS
Chinese insurer PICC soars on Hong Kong debut
by Staff Writers
Hong Kong (AFP) Dec 7, 2012


Two protesting Chinese workers held in Singapore
Singapore (AFP) Dec 7, 2012 - Two mainland Chinese workers who staged a high-rise protest atop construction cranes in Singapore over unpaid wages have been arrested and could face imprisonment, police said Friday.

In the second industrial incident in Singapore involving restive Chinese workers in less than two weeks, the pair clambered up two 10-storey high cranes to highlight their demand for payment of back wages before their return home.

Rescuers coaxed the two men down after more than four hours of negotiations and they were arrested soon after, police said.

"The two men were arrested for unlawfully remaining at the place and intentionally causing alarm. They can expect to face imprisonment, fine or both upon conviction," a police statement said.

The crane protest came 10 days after Chinese bus drivers staged a wildcat strike at state-linked transport firm SMRT -- tightly-controlled Singapore's first strike since 1986.

Twenty-nine of the drivers have been summarily deported to China and four others are on trial for staging an illegal strike, an offence punishable by up to a year in prison and fines.

A fifth driver has been jailed for six weeks after pleading guilty.

International rights groups have condemned Singapore's handling of the strike and called on authorities to drop all charges against the accused.

The industrial disputes have highlighted Singapore's heavy dependence on migrant workers to drive its economic growth amid a labour shortage resulting from falling birth rates.

Chinese insurer PICC surged Friday on its Hong Kong trading debut, as the city's biggest share sale this year provided an upbeat end to a weak year in the global IPO market.

The state-owned firm's stock climbed 6.9 percent to close at HK$3.72 -- at one point jumping almost eight percent -- on its first trading day after raising $3.1 billion in its initial public offering

"I think the stock price today reflects the investors' expectation and confidence," PICC chairman Wu Yan told reporters after hitting the gong during a ceremony at the Hong Kong exchange.

Wu called the listing a "milestone development" for the 63-year-old firm, a pioneer in China's insurance industry, which he said has transformed into one of the world's fastest-growing insurance companies.

"The successful listing... also injects new energy into Hong Kong's equity market," he added at the ceremony, which was also attended by Hong Kong's finance minister John Tsang.

The People's Insurance Company of China (PICC) offering, which is also the world's fifth largest this year, tops off a slow year for IPOs owing to concerns about a slowdown in China and globally.

But analysts said there was nothing to cheer despite the positive start.

While PICC's offering was one of the biggest this year it was still below what it had been hoping for.

Shares were set at the low end of the HK$3.42-HK$4.03 price range. Selling at the top end would have seen China's fourth largest insurer raise about $3.6 billion.

"I don't think it's a surprise," investment bank Core Pacific-Yamaichi research manager Olive Xia told AFP, adding that because the IPO was set at the low end of its range "there are already upside potentials ... to rise after its debut."

The Shanghai-based analyst said the latest sale is also unlikely to see the return of the once red-hot IPO market in Hong Kong, which has been the world's biggest destination for new listings in the past three years.

"Major fundraising will be relatively low compared to previous years.

Figures show Hong Kong has only raised about $10.16 billion from new listings so far this year, a plunge of 66 percent from the same period last year and its worst since 2008, according to data provider Dealogic, which tracks IPOs in major markets.

This placed the Hong Kong bourse as the fourth-largest IPO market this year, after New York, Nasdaq and the Tokyo stock exchanges, Dealogic data showed.

Hong Kong raised a total of $33 billion from new listings in 2011.

The choppy global markets have forced firms to postpone or downsize their offerings, including Hong Kong's richest tycoon Li Ka-shing's flagship Cheung Kong Holdings which postponed an IPO bid for its unit Horizon Hospitality last month. The IPO was expected to raise up to $800 million.

But Xia said: "But there are opportunities for companies in China still because the economy is still undergoing micro-restructuring, so companies in booming industry (would want) to raise fund in the Hong Kong market."

PICC secured 17 so-called cornerstone investors ahead of its listing, including US-based insurance giant American International Group and China Life Insurance, China's biggest life insurer by premiums.

Cornerstone investors are given the option to buy vast portions of stock in an IPO if they agree to hold the shares for a certain amount of time.

PICC has said it intends to use the net proceeds from the share sale to strengthen "the company's capital base to support its business growth".

Founded in 1949, PICC was the first nationwide insurance company in China, which today has 130 million individual insurance customers and about 2.4 million institutional clients.

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