China's Shuanghui International Holdings, which bought U.S. pork producer Smithfield Foods Inc this year, has hired banks for a Hong Kong IPO, seeking to raise up to $6 billion in what could be the region's largest stock offering in four years.
An IPO would allow Shuanghui to pay down debt borrowed for the $4.7 billion Smithfield purchase and provide an exit for investors such as CDH, one of China's biggest and oldest private equity firms which has long aimed to sell its stake in the company.
The potential deal size is subject to change. While one source familiar the matter said it could go as high as $6 billion, another said it was more likely to be in the $3-4 billion range.
"The IPO will give a platform for existing shareholders to cash out of their investments, but it will have limited impact on the operations of the company," said Anson Chan, an analyst at KGI Securities.
"But the IPO will be a milestone in Shuanghui's journey from a local company to an international food company, which underscores the maturing of China's food industry," he said. Chan currently does not rate the company.
The listing, expected in the second quarter of 2014, would follow an up to $5 billion IPO for the Hong Kong electricity business of tycoon Li Ka-shing's Power Assets Holdings Ltd . Both deals would be a major boost for the Hong Kong stock exchange, which has seen public offering volumes drop over the last two years.
Shuanghui has tapped BOC International, Citic Securities International, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley , Standard Chartered and UBS to lead the IPO, sources familiar with the matter said. The news was first reported by IFR, a Thomson Reuters publication.
The bank line-up is not final, one person familiar with the plan said.
A representative for Shuanghui said in an email the company would not comment on any enquiries related to a possible IPO.
$20 BLN COMPANY
Plans for an IPO by Shuanghui were first revealed by Reuters in July when sources said the combined Shuanghui-Smithfield company would have a value of about $20 billion.
The Smithfield purchase was the largest ever acquisition of a U.S. company by a Chinese firm, bringing together the world's biggest hog producer and China's largest meat processing company - Shuanghui-owned Henan Shuanghui Investment & Development Co .
Including debt, the deal was valued at $7.1 billion. Bank of China and Morgan Stanley together provided $7 billion of loans to finance it.
Despite political opposition in the United States, the deal closed in September, allowing Shuanghui to directly sell Smithfield pork goods across China to meet the country's huge demand for the product. Together Henan Shuanghui and Smithfield garner about $18 billion in annual revenue, based on their last year's sales figures.
China's CDH Investments owns 33.7 percent of Shuanghui International through several funds and has been invested in the company since about 2005. The meat processor also counts New Horizons, founded by Winston Wen, the son of China's former premier Wen Jiabao, as a private equity investor. New Horizons owns 4.2 percent.
Goldman Sachs' main investing arm has a 5.2 percent stake, public filings showed. Singapore state investor Temasek Holdings has a 2.8 percent holding.
An exit from Shuanghui would be reminiscent of CDH and Goldman's Hong Kong IPO of Nanjing-based China Yurun Food Group Co Ltd in 2005, a similar but smaller producer of fresh and frozen meats, including pork.
Hong Kong stock exchange rules require one year of ownership before a merged entity can list, though companies can apply for a waiver to seek an earlier deal. IFR said the IPO is expected in the second quarter of 2014.
At $6 billion, the IPO would be the biggest in Asia Pacific since AIA Group's $20.5 billion listing in October 2010.
As part of the Smithfield acquisition, Shuanghui also inherited a 37 percent stake in Spain's Campofrio Food Group SA . It has since scaled back that holding to avoid making a forced takeover under local regulations, although some analysts believe it could make a takeover bid in the future.