Best-Performing China Bank Stock May Have More Room to Rise

(Bloomberg) -- President Xi Jinping’s push to spur lending in his economy stands to benefit Postal Savings Bank of China Ltd., whose ubiquitous green-fronted outlets have been luring deposits across the nation.

This branch network, the widest in the world, has become a source of cheap funds for the lender, ensuring it’s better placed than rivals amid the government’s crackdown on riskier financing. Postal Bank is China’s best-performing financial stock this year, and analysts surveyed by Bloomberg say its shares could rise an average 23 percent from the current HK$4.65.

“The valuation of Postal Bank is still pretty reasonable after the rally, therefore investors remain pretty bullish about the stock,” said Liao Chenkai, a Shanghai-based analyst with Capital Securities Corp. The bank’s net interest income will keep growing this year as regulators encourage lending and demand for corporate loans will continue, he said.

Best-Performing China Bank Stock May Have More Room to Rise

Postal Bank’s profit is forecast to rise 16 percent in 2018, twice as fast as its five largest state rivals. The bank had 8.4 trillion yuan ($1.2 trillion) in deposits as of March 31, of which less than half were extended as loans, compared with 70 percent for China’s banking sector. Meanwhile, its bad-debt ratio stood at 0.7 percent, compared with 1.75 percent for the entire industry.

Postal Bank also seems more fairly valued now, after falling about 17 percent from its June high. The correction was triggered by Goldman Sachs Group Inc., which downgraded the stock citing its high valuation. That has narrowed the price-to-book ratio versus Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd., the nation’s largest lender.

Shares of Postal Bank rose as much as 2.6 percent in Hong Kong on Monday -- the biggest intra-day jump in three weeks -- and were trading 2.4 percent higher as of 10:37 a.m. local time, exceeding the benchmark Hang Seng Index’s 1.5 percent gain.

All this gives the bank room to boost lending. China’s financial regulators have taken several steps to free up credit in the past month and recently ordered the nation’s lenders to boost credit support for infrastructure projects, small businesses, agriculture and exporters, as economic growth slows and concerns rise about the trade standoff with the U.S.

Postal Bank’s outlook will depend on its earnings -- due Tuesday -- and progress on its capital raising, said Chen Shujin, an analyst at Huatai Securities Co. The Beijing-based bank in 2017 announced plans to sell shares on the mainland, less than a year after raising $7.6 billion from an initial public offering in Hong Kong. Its core tier-1 capital adequacy ratio was 8.85 percent at end-March, lower than other large state banks.

“We anticipate share prices of China banks will rebound in the short-term after announcing solid second-quarter operating figures,” CCB International’s analyst Lawrence Chen wrote in a note this month. He predicts Postal Bank’s profit will increase 15 percent and has an “outperform” rating on the stock.

Postal Bank has more than 40,000 outlets nationwide and over 550 million retail customers. The stock has gained 12 percent in Hong Kong this year, compared with an average 11 percent drop for all Hong Kong-listed Chinese banks.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.