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Friday, September 19, 2008

Bank of China to buy stake in LCF Rothschild

Bank of China to buy stake in LCF Rothschild

By Scheherazade Daneshkhu and Sundeep Tucker

Published: September 18 2008 12:48 | Last updated: September 18 2008 19:58

Bank of China, the world’s fifth largest bank, is to take a 20 per cent stake in La Compagnie Financière Edmond de Rothschild, the family-held asset management and private banking business.

The move signals that, in spite of the financial crisis, Chinese institutions are willing to invest in western banks.

The Shanghai and Hong Kong-listed commercial bank will pay €236.3m ($341m) for the stake in the French arm of the La Compagnie Financière, which was created in 1953 by Edmond de Rothschild and has been chaired by his son Benjamin de Rothschild since 1997.

It is the first strategic investment by a leading Chinese bank in the eurozone. The deal will allow Rothschild to tap into a fast-growing class of wealthy Chinese, while providing Bank of China with financial services products to sell to increasingly sophisticated Chinese investors.

Michel Cicurel, chief executive of LCF Edmond de Rothschild, described China as the “El Dorado” of emerging markets, with 500,000 dollar millionaires “and it’s growing fast”.

The deal has been eight months in the making and emerged from business links between the two companies three years ago.

Min Zhu, Bank of China vice-president for international finance, said Bank of China was already the most international of the top Chinese banks, with almost 1,000 branches in 28 countries. But he said the focus of the deal was to service its customers in China rather than aim to become a “global local bank”.

Asked whether Bank of China would take advantage of problems at European or US banks, he said: “We don’t have the capacity yet.”

Mr Zhu said the Rothschild name, with a 250-year banking history, and its cautious banking approach had appealed to Bank of China. But he nevertheless insisted on seeing Rothschild’s first-half audited accounts before signing the deal.

Mr Cicurel said Rothschild did not need new equity and was in robust financial health. According to the company’s website, LCF Edmond de Rothschild made a net profit of €105m in 2007.

Under the terms of the deal, Benjamin de Rothschild will retain 75 per cent of the family business and the remaining 5 per cent stake will be held by management and employees.

LCF Edmond de Roths­child manages €30bn of assets. It is also active in mergers and acquisitions services, mostly focusing on mid-cap companies in France. It has operations in Italy, Israel and China and said it was also looking to expand in Chile and Russia.

Bank of China was advised by Bank of China International, Morgan Stanley and Allen & Overy. Rothschild was advised by Goldman Sachs, Société Générale and Freshfields.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008,dwp_uuid=1c573392-3015-11da-ba9f-00000e2511c8,print=yes.html

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