China's Ping An Is No. 2 to Berkshire Hathaway and Rising

Updated on
  • Ping An shares have more than doubled this year in HK trading
  • Company highlights technology prowess, says stock undervalued

China Ping An building in Shanghai.

Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

A surge in Ping An Insurance (Group) Co.’s shares this year has made it the world’s second-largest insurer by market value behind only Berkshire Hathaway Inc. And the rally may not be done yet.

Shares of the Chinese insurer, which more than doubled this year to boost the company’s market valuation to about $210 billion, jumped on Tuesday to a new record after Chief Financial Officer Jason Yao told reporters that the firm’s technological prowess was under-rated. Ping An’s valuation has much room to increase as the company gradually spins off Internet technology units for their own listings, Yao said on Monday in Shenzhen, where the company held its investor day.

Optimism surrounding Ping An’s business prospects ahead of its investor meetings helped propel a 17 percent advance in the shares since Thursday. The shares rose 8.8 percent to HK$86.20 in Hong Kong, the biggest increase in four years, amid a broader rally for financial stocks. They’re the best performers this year on the 46-company Hang Seng China H-Financials Index.

Saddled in the past with a so-called “conglomerate discount,” because of its integrated financial services model, Ping An has come to be viewed more positively by analysts on signs the approach is working. Nomura Holdings Inc. said in a note Tuesday that it raised the price target on Ping An shares to HK$92.22, citing the company’s strength in technology such as artificial intelligence, big data and biometrics.

After spending heavily on technologies in the past few years, Ping An is entering “harvest time” as such investments enhance its financial services, tech products bring in new revenue, and potential spinoffs of units create additional value for shareholders, Yao said Monday. Shares trading at below 20 times earnings are “not very high” compared to above 50 for technology stocks, he said.

“The market had been valuing Ping An Insurance as a pure insurer and ignoring the technology side of the company, while the management also believed it’s been undervalued,” Liao Chenkai, a Shanghai-based analyst with Capital Securities, said. “Investors are betting the company could benefit from its financial technology strength and boost overall business.”

Ping An regards Berkshire Hathaway as not directly comparable -- and so calls itself the world’s largest insurance group. Warren Buffett’s firm has a market value of about $448 billion. China Life Insurance Co., with a market value of $135 billion, is the second-biggest Chinese insurer by that measure.

As Ping An shares have rallied, short-sellers are taking aim. Short interest had risen to 6.1 percent of free float as of Nov. 14, from a low of about 1.7 percent in March, according to data from IHS Markit Ltd.

— With assistance by Paul Panckhurst, Dingmin Zhang, and Amanda Wang

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