Bank of America sells China bank stake

China Bank of America
Bank of America has sold part of its stake in China Construction Bank for $2.8 billion.Craig Ruttle / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Bank of America Corp. raised more money Wednesday to cope with U.S. economic turmoil by selling part of its stake in China Construction Bank Ltd., China's second-biggest commercial lender, for $2.8 billion.

Bank of America sold 5.62 billion Construction Bank shares in a move that reduced its stake from 19.1 percent to 16.6 percent, according to a sale sheet viewed by The Associated Press.

Bank of America is raising money to weather the worst downturn for U.S. banks since the 1930s and absorb Merrill Lynch & Co., acquired in December. The bank received a $15 billion infusion as part of the U.S. government's $700 billion industry bailout.

"Bank of America is reducing its China Construction Bank shares due to its consideration of its own financial conditions under the current severe turbulence of the international financial crisis," the Chinese bank said in a statement. "Construction Bank expresses its understanding."

Phone calls to Bank of America spokespeople at its Asian headquarters in Singapore and Hong Kong were not answered.

The price was HK$3.92 (50.5 U.S. cents) per share, or a total of HK$22 billion (US$2.8 billion), an 11.9 percent discount from Tuesday's closing price. The sale was arranged by Merrill Lynch and UBS Corp.

Construction Bank shares plunged 8.8 percent in Hong Kong trading to HK$4.06, dragging down Hong Kong's key Hang Seng market index by 3.4 percent. Shares in China's biggest state-owned lender, Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd., also fell sharply.

Bank of America, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, bought 9 percent of the Chinese bank in 2005 for $3 billion and the two launched a strategic partnership amid a flurry of tie-ups between Chinese lenders and foreign partners.

China has encouraged such partnerships in an effort to modernize the country's banking industry.

Bank of America paid $1.9 billion last May to increase its Construction Bank stake to 11 percent and raised it to 19.1 percent in November.

Other U.S. and European institutions are reported to be considering selling some of their stakes in Chinese banks to raise money.

Construction Bank, based in Beijing, is China's second-largest commercial lender by assets after Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd.

Bank of America and Construction Bank plan to continue their strategic cooperation, the Chinese bank said. The two banks have agreed to let their customers use each other's automatic teller machines and say they are considering other ventures.