April 30, 2018 / 4:22 AM / 22 days ago

China's Baidu to sell majority of financial services unit for $1.9 billion

(Reuters) - China’s Baidu Inc said it will sell a majority stake in its financial services business for about $1.9 billion to a consortium led by TPG Capital Management LP and Carlyle Group LP, as it looks to deepen its push into financial services.

FILE PHOTO: A woman is silhouetted against the Baidu logo at a new product launch from Baidu, in Shanghai, China, November 26, 2015. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

The investment will give Baidu the firepower it needs to narrow the lead that Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and Tencent Holdings Ltd have taken in financial services, and also to find revenue streams outside its internet search business.

The deal provides foreign investors with a significant indirect stake in a number of lucrative onshore financial service businesses and comes as the government opens up China’s financial sector to more foreign investment.

The Baidu deal adds to a flurry of fundraising activity by Chinese technology firms including Ant Financial Services Group and JD.com Inc’s finance arm, which are keen to respond to burgeoning demand for digital services, especially in the financial sector.

The deal is expected to close in the second half of the year and values Baidu’s Financial Services Group (Baidu FSG) at nearly $4 billion, said one person with direct knowledge of the matter.

The person declined to be identified as the information was private. Baidu declined to comment on the unit’s valuation.

Under the deal structure, $840 million will be raised by Baidu FSG, which until now was wholly owned by Baidu, through the issuance of new shares, Baidu said in a statement on Sunday.

The remaining $1.06 billion will be raised by the parent from selling down its holding in the unit.

Baidu FSG runs payment system Baidu Wallet, an online credit service and an online wealth management platform. Analysts said it has faced difficulties in building up Baidu Wallet.

NEW FOCUS AREAS

Baidu Wallet, which also draws in users for other financial services such as online credit, had 100 million activated accounts as at the end of 2016 - a much smaller customer base than China’s top online payment platform Alipay or Tencent-operated WeChat Pay.

“TPG and Carlyle are trying to take a piece of the fintech, payment market in China which is basically a duopoly at the moment by Tencent and Alibaba,” said Ryan Roberts, an analyst at Hong Kong-based financial services advisory MCM Partners.

He expected Baidu to focus more on other fintech services such as micro loans, robo-advisory and insurance products.

Baidu FSG also owns several small financial licenses such as a third-party payment licence and a fund sales licence.

Baidu will be left with a roughly 42 percent stake in the spun-off unit, renamed Du Xiaoman Financial. The rest of Du Xiaoman will be owned by the consortium that includes Taikang Group and ABC International Holdings Ltd, Baidu said.

Zhu Guang, senior vice president at Baidu and general manager of the current financial services business, will become chief executive of Du Xiaoman, Baidu said.

Baidu FSG plans to use part of the proceeds raised to invest in domestic financial institutions as well as to replenish working capital, said the person with knowledge of the matter.

Baidu, in its statement, did not identify specific areas of investments.

In a separate statement, TPG said, together with its co-investors, it would invest around $1 billion in the deal.

Reuters reported in January that the Chinese search engine provider was seeking new investors for its wholly owned finance unit, in an up to $2 billion deal.

($1 = 6.3325 Chinese yuan renminbi)

Reporting by Julie Zhu and Sijia Jiang in HONG KONG; Additional reporting by Matthew Miller, Clare Jim and Rushil Dutta; Writing by Sayantani Ghosh amd Sumeet Chatterjee; Editing by Jason Neely and Christopher Cushing

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