Amex, Allianz Raise $1.9 Billion in ICBC Stake Sales

German insurer Allianz and U.S. credit card group American Express raised a combined $1.9 billion on Tuesday through the sale of shares in Chinese banking giant Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC).

The move was expected, as the two sellers, hoping to tuck away cash in the grim economic climate, had signaled their desire to sell shares in ICBC, the world’s largest bank by market value.

Allianz and American Express sold large blocks of ICBC’s Shanghai-listed shares at HK$3.86 per share, or a 4 percent discount to Monday’s closing price, a source with direct knowledge of the deal said on Tuesday. ICBC is also listed in Hong Kong.

When China restructured its major banks several years ago, Western financial institutions took stakes in several Chinese lenders, hoping to profit from the investments while forging a strategic partnership in a fast-growing country.

ICBC went from being a bailed out bank to the world’s largest and most profitable, with a market capitalization of more than $190 billion.

But after the financial crisis took hold last year, Western banks moved quickly to raise much-needed cash by selling out of their Chinese stakes.

Royal Bank of Scotland and Bank of America dumped shares in Bank of China and China Construction Bank, respectively, when lockups expired earlier this year.

While Goldman Sachs was originally free to sell half its 4.93 percent stake in ICBC this month and the rest in October, last month it pledged to keep 80 percent of that stake until April 2010.The bank also said at the time that it was in no rush to sell the 20 percent stake.

Allianz sold 3.22 billion ICBC shares and American Express sold 638.06 million shares to a select group of investors through private sales, ICBC said in a statement on Tuesday.

ICBC trimmed gains after opening 7 percent higher, trading up 2.2 percent in Hong Kong at HK$4.10. The lender posted a 6.2 percent increase in first-quarter profit on Monday due to loan growth and higher fees, but its net interest income fell 12.9 percent in the same period.

Morgan Stanley cut its earnings estimate for ICBC for 2009 through 2011 by 1 to 2 percent.

(Editing by Ken Wills)