* Shares priced at top of range, seen rising on debut
* Malaysia 2012 IPOs hit $7.3 bln, one-fourth Asia-Pac total
* Last big Malaysia IPO on horizon till next year's Malakoff
(Adds context, details, analyst comment)
By Yantoultra Ngui
KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 4 (Reuters) - Pay-TV firm Astro Malaysia Holdings Bhd will raise about $1.5 billion by selling shares at the top end of a marketing range, as privatisation schemes and economic growth cement Malaysia's position as Asia's top destination for IPOs this year.
Astro, controlled by Malaysia's second-richest man Ananda Krishnan, priced the IPO at 3 ringgit per share, implying somewhat rich valuations, although analysts expect it to continue Kuala Lumpur's strong run of share debuts when the stock lists on Oct. 19.
The deal will boost Malaysia's 2012 IPO tally to about $7.3 billion, accounting for nearly one-quarter of all new listings in Asia-Pacific and well up from about $1.8 billion in Malaysia in the same period last year.
Analysts are betting on a strong debut, helped by Astro's market dominance and the strong demand for the offer, which drew 16 cornerstone investors including U.S. hedge fund Och-Ziff Capital Management .
"We do see the potential in the company, especially given its unofficial monopoly control over the Malaysia pay-TV market," said Kong Heng Siong, an analyst at OSK Research in Kuala Lumpur.
"I do expect the opening price to be higher than 3, just looking from the demand itself ... If you talk about the overall IPO market, most of them have done fairly well, so I would expect a similar performance by Astro."
The IPO is Malaysia's third biggest in 2012, after Felda Global Ventures Holdings Bhd's $3.3 billion offering and IHH Healthcare Bhd's $2.1 billion flotation, and the year's sixth largest worldwide.
It is expected to be Kuala Lumpur's last major listing this year, however, with no big IPOs on the horizon until next year's planned $1 billion offering for independent power producer Malakoff Corp Bhd, 51 percent-owned by MMC Corp Bhd .
Astro, with a near-monopoly in Malaysia's residential pay-TV market and a subscriber base of 3.1 million, is retuning to the public markets after it was privatised in 2010.
At the offer price, it will have a market value of 15.6 billion ringgit ($5.1 billion), nearly double the 8.3 billion ringgit it was worth when it was privatised.
<^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ Graphic on Malaysian IPOs: ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^> MALAYSIA DEFIES GLOBAL GLOOM
Malaysia has defied market gloom elsewhere that led several IPOs to be pulled, with robust economic growth stoking interest from a captive domestic investor base and global fund managers.
Eight of this year's 12 Malaysia IPOs are trading in positive territory, with the largest offerings, Felda and IHH, up 14.3 percent and 7.9 percent, respectively.
Astro is expected to continue that trend, with one Kuala Lumpur-based analyst forecasting the stock would rise more than 6 percent on its debut. The analyst asked not to be identified.
The institutional portion of the IPO, or 20.8 percent of the total, was more than 30 times oversubscribed, the company said. Portions were also reserved for retail investors and ethnic Malay investors, or "bumiputra".
"On a price-to-earnings (PE) valuation basis, we do find the issue price of 3.00 ringgit per share rather expensive as it would translate to a PE of 32 times based on FY2013 estimated earnings per share," Kuala Lumpur-based TA Securities said in a note.
"However on a longer-term basis we believe the premium is justified due to Astro's dominant position within the industry, expected double-digit bottom line growth, and decent bottom line margin for the next five years at least."
TA values the stock at 3.53 ringgit per share, without any recommendation.
Astro will use the proceeds from the listing to repay bank loans, for capital expenditure, working capital and listing expenses, the prospectus showed.
The IPO is being handled by CIMB Group Holdings Bhd , Malayan Banking Bhd and RHB Capital Bhd . Several foreign banks are also advisers, including UBS AG , Credit Suisse Group AG , Goldman Sachs Group Inc and JPMorgan Chase & Co .
($1 = 3.0575 Malaysian ringgit)
(Additional reporting by Elzio Barreto in Hong Kong and Al-Zaquan Amer Hamzah in Kuala Lumpur; Editing By Chris Gallagher and Edmund Klamann)
Keywords: ASTRO IPO/