Bank of America cutting China bank holdings with $1.5 billion stake sale

Bank of America in Times Square, New York.
Adam Jeffery | CNBC
Bank of America in Times Square, New York.

Bank of America launched on Tuesday an up to $1.5 billion share offering in China Construction Bank, exiting an eight-year investment in China's second-biggest lender in a bid to shore up its own balance sheet.

The U.S. bank is offering 2 billion Hong Kong-traded shares of CCB in a range of HK$5.63 to HK$5.81 each, according to a term sheet of the deal seen by Reuters. The price is equivalent to a discount of up to 5.1 percent to Tuesday's close of HK$5.93.

The deal follows a massive cleanup in Bank of America's balance sheet in recent years, worth about $60 billion, from the sale of non-core investments as chief executive Brian Moynihan tries to boost the bank's capital ratios. The sale also comes about two years after the bank raised a combined $14.9 billion from selling shares in CCB to a group of investors that included Singapore's Temasek Holdings.

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Bank of America unveiled an initiative in 2011 aimed at saving $8 billion a year. The Charlotte, North Carolina-based bank joins a list of Western banks that have cut their ties with Chinese financial firms in recent years.

Many of the investments by the U.S. and European banks were made as the big Chinese lenders were preparing for their market debuts nearly a decade ago. While the relationships were profitable and helped Chinese lenders become some of the world's biggest banks, few products or strategic benefits emerged.

Bank of America's investment in CCB dates to 2005 when it paid $3 billion for a 9.9 percent stake in the Chinese bank before its initial public offering.

At the time, then Bank of America chief executive Kenneth Lewis said the partnership was designed to give the bank increased access to roughly 1.3 billion Chinese consumers, while CCB would benefit from Bank of America's U.S. retail banking experience.

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The U.S. bank increased its holdings in following years to 25.6 billion shares, before paring it down as it focused on bolstering its capital base. Bank of America launched Tuesday's sale after a lock-up on its remaining stake expired last month.

The sale also comes at a time when bad loans at Chinese banks are showing signs of a pick up as the economy loses steam after several years of strong growth. As a result, several Chinese lenders are preparing to launch equity sales to bolster their capital base.

Earlier this year, Goldman Sachs sold out of its seven-year investment from Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.

Some foreign banks continue to hold on to their investments in Chinese lenders. Among them are HSBC, which owns a 19.9 percent holding in China's Bank of Communications and Spain's BBVA's has a 15 percent stake in China Citic Bank.

CCB shares are down 4.7 percent since the beginning of the year in Hong Kong, outperforming the 9 percent decline in the financial sub-index of the Hong Kong stock exchange in 2013.