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China Life Insurance seeks backdoor listing in Hong Kong

Beijing

CHINA Life Insurance (Group) Co, the parent company of the nation's largest life insurer, is planning a backdoor listing of its key businesses in Hong Kong as early as this year, people with knowledge of the matter said.

The Beijing-based conglomerate, which spans property and casualty insurance, banking and asset management, plans to inject its main assets into the listed China Life Insurance Co, which will in turn issue new shares to the parent, the people said, declining to be named because the plans are private.

Listing the group would be a key step in chairman Wang Bin's bid to revitalise the firm, a drive unveiled last year to speed up market-oriented reforms at the 4.5 trillion yuan (S$895 billion) state-owned giant and focus on business value rather than size.

The move would also enable China Life Group to widen its access to capital markets without going through the more complicated and lengthy process of a separate initial public offering.

Still, deliberations are at an early stage and China Life hasn't made a final decision on the plan, the people said.

Representatives for China Life Group and the listed unit didn't respond to requests for comment.

The China Life Group was set up in 1996 as part of a restructuring of then state insurer People's Insurance Co.

It later spun off its core life insurance assets into China Life Insurance Co, which listed in Hong Kong, New York and Shanghai.

While the unit has long held the largest share of the nation's fast-growing life market, rival Ping An Insurance (Group) Co - known for aggressive reforms and innovation - has expanded its market value in Hong Kong to almost double that of the state firm.

China Life Group's revenue topped 900 billion yuan last year, while third-party assets under management exceeded 1.4 trillion yuan, according to a Jan 16 statement on its website.

The listed unit, which is scheduled to release 2019 results in March, said last month that net income probably jumped as much as 420 per cent last year, driven by better investment returns and tax relief. BLOOMBERG