- Ping An, Link compete with buyout giants for services provider
- Bank facing pressure from activist investor Elliott Management
Bank of East Asia Ltd., the Hong Kong lender facing pressure from billionaire activist investor Paul Singer, narrowed the list of bidders for a share registry business with more than 125 years’ history, people familiar with the matter said.
The bank invited suitors including Baring Private Equity Asia Ltd. and Australia’s Link Administration Holdings Ltd. to submit second-round offers for its Tricor Holdings Ltd. unit, the people said, asking not to be identified as the talks are private. China’s Ping An Insurance Group Co. and U.K. buyout firm CVC Capital Partners Ltd. have also been shortlisted, according to the people. A deal could value the business at about $800 million, one of the people said.
Hong Kong’s largest independent lender has faced sustained criticism from Singer’s Elliott Management, which is pushing BEA to consider selling itself. The hedge fund last month escalated its attack by starting legal action against the family-run bank and its directors, claiming they acted improperly when issuing stock. BEA has said it will “vigorously oppose” Elliott’s petition.
BEA announced plans to review its 75.6 percent holding in Tricor in February in the same statement that rejected Elliott’s call for an auction process to explore selling the entire bank. Hong Kong port operator NWS Holdings Ltd., backed by billionaire Cheng Yu-tung, owns the remaining stake and is also considering selling its holding.
Tricor’s professional services practices can be traced backed to 1890 in Singapore and 1902 in Hong Kong, according to its website. The company, which has more than 2,000 staff in 20 markets, offers company administration, accounting, share registry and trust services.
BEA shares were up 2.7 percent at 3:47 p.m. Monday in Hong Kong. Representatives for Baring, BEA, CVC, Link Administration and Ping An declined to comment.
Baring, which has recently been among the most acquisitive buyout firms in Asia, has been building out a portfolio of similar business services providers. It agreed to buy control of Vistra Group Ltd., a provider of trust and custodial services, in May last year for about $1 billion, people familiar with the matter said at the time. The private equity firm added two months later the purchase of Orangefield Netherlands BV, which offers similar services.
Ping An, based in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, has been accelerating acquisitions as it seeks to move beyond insurance and become a one-stop shop for financial services. For Australia’s Link Administration, which was listed by local buyout firm Pacific Equity Partners Pty in October last year, a purchase would allow the firm to build out its footprint in north Asia.