HONG KONG (Reuters) - State-owned Postal Savings Bank of China (PSBC), the country's largest bank by number of branches, has filed for a Hong Kong initial public offering (IPO) seeking to raise as much as $10 billion, Thomson Reuters IFR reported on Thursday.
The filing of the preliminary IPO prospectus sets in motion what is expected to be the world's biggest new listing in about two years, valuing the bank at about $50 billion, IFR said, citing sources close to the deal.
The IPO, aimed at raising between $7 billion and $10 billion, could happen as early as September, it said. A PSBC [IPO-PSBC.HK] spokeswoman declined to make immediate comment on the filing.
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PSBC's planned offering comes against the backdrop of a nearly 60 percent drop in Asia-Pacific share offerings, ex-Japan, in the first half of 2016 amid the weakest activity since 2008.
Share sales in the region have been hit by volatile equity markets, China's slowest growth in 25 years and growing uncertainty after Britain's vote to leave the European Union.
PSBC, which has more than 40,000 branches nationwide and is considered to have a much lower ratio of bad loans than rivals, was set up as a deposit-taking bank in 2007, using the network of the former postal savings bureau.
The lender plans to sell up to 13.9 billion Hong Kong shares and use the proceeds to bolster its balance sheet, according to a statement on the website of the China Banking Regulatory Commission on June 24.
If the IPO of PSBC, which has about 500 million clients or nearly half of China's population, hits its fund-raising target, it would be the biggest market debut since Alibaba Group's <BABA.N> record $25 billion listing in September 2014.
A strong response to the offering could revive the sluggish IPO market, with Chinese brokers including Everbright Securities Co <601788.SS>, China Merchants Securities Co <600999.SS> and China Securities Co looking to raise funds in Hong Kong.
While most large peers including Industrial and Commercial Bank of China <1398.HK> and Agricultural Bank of China <1288.HK> trade at prices below their book value, PSBC plans to sell shares close to book value, sources have said.
Because of its focus on small loans, the bank has a cleaner balance sheet than many other Chinese commercial lenders saddled with bad debts from property developers, steelmakers and other industrial conglomerates, analysts and investors have said.
Bank of America Merrill Lynch, China's domestic investment bank China International Capital Corp <3908.HK>, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley are joint sponsors on the IPO. UBS is also a joint global coordinator, IFR reported.
(Reporting by Fiona Lau and Ken Wang; Additional reporting by Shu Zhang in Beijing; Writing by Sumeet Chatterjee; Editing by Denny Thomas, Clarence Fernandez and David Goodman)