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Pork giant pulls HK listing; analysts upbeat on city

HONG KONG--Chinese pork producer WH Group has cancelled a planned listing in Hong Kong, blaming “deteriorating” conditions, but analysts said its failure was mainly due to a lack of appetite for the firm rather than a reflection of the city's IPO market.

The world's biggest pork firm earlier this month said it hoped to raise up to US$5.3 billion with a share sale planned for April 30, which would have been the biggest globally in a year and the city's largest since 2010.

However, warning bells rang last week when it slashed the offering by two-thirds to US$1.88 billion and put the listing back a week, blaming concerns about the strength of the stock market.

And then, late Tuesday WH Group said it had pulled the plug completely.

“In light of deteriorating market conditions and recent excessive market volatility, the company has decided that the global offering will not proceed at this time,” it said in a statement.

However, analysts said the lack of interest in the firm, which last year bought U.S. giant Smithfield Foods in a multibillion-dollar deal, was not particularly down to a weak Hong Kong market.

Jackson Wong, Tanrich Securities vice president, said, “Even if it is the biggest (pork company) in the world, it is not as sexy” to investors compared to other listings.

“It's all about sentiment ... if there are more attractive names in the IPO market, I think people's enthusiasm about IPOs can turn on like a switch,” he told AFP.

Core Pacific Yamaichi head of research Castor Pang told AFP traders did not see a lot of “upside potential in the short term” in the company, with proceeds of the listing to be used to repay debts.

“I don't think the backtrack of WH (Group's) IPO will have a negative impact on the IPO activities this year,” he said, adding that there have been a variety of businesses that have recently listed in the city.

Hong Kong was the world's top IPO venue from 2009 to 2011 before losing ground to competitors in recent years. However, it has seen a pick-up in 2014 — especially for some less orthodox companies.

Magnum Entertainment, the first nightclub operator to list in Hong Kong, saw its HK$126 million IPO oversubscribed 3,500 times. Its share price soared 90 percent on the first day.

Fu Shou Yuan, the largest mainland Chinese funeral services provider, saw its December US$215 million IPO oversubscribed by nearly 700 percent.

In January, a utility trust owned by Asia's richest man Li Ka-shing, raised US$3.11 billion.

WH Group is involved in the production, slaughter and distribution of pork, a key ingredient in Chinese cuisine, and is also a shareholder of Spanish meat firm Campofrio Food.

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