HONG KONG - Hong Leong Group, owned by Singapore billionaire Kwek Leng Beng, has received approaches about its 90 percent stake in Xinfei, China's No.3 refrigerator maker by market share, the company said on Wednesday.

Its statement was issued after a Reuters report, citing a source with direct knowledge of the deal, said Hong Leong had hired a major international investment bank to explore strategic options for Xinfei and may sell its stake to a strategic buyer.

The source, who declined to be identified because of the confidential nature of the deal, said the deal could fetch more than $700 million.

Shares of Hong Leong Asia, the Singapore-listed arm of the Hong Leong Group that owns the Xinfei stake, rose as much as 7.3 percent after the Reuters report.

In its statement, Hong Leong Asia confirmed it was in discussions with investment banks to evaluate options for its stake in Xinfei.

The company wishes to inform shareholders that it has from time to time received enquiries from third parties who have expressed interests in acquiring the group's 90 percent interest in Xinfei, the statement said.

In view of these enquiries, the company is ... in discussions with investment banks to evaluate its strategic options with respect to its interests in Xinfei.

However, the company would like to caution that such discussions ... are still in the preliminary stages and there is no assurance that any transaction will materialise.


Great Wall Securities analyst He Qifeng said: Xinfei is a household name in many parts of China. For global players eyeing a foothold in China, Xinfei could be a good target ... It's important to grow ... in China's competitive home appliance market, as eventually there are likely to be only very few brands left.

Home appliance makers such as Japan's Panasonic Corp and Haier Group are expected to be interested in a sale of Xinfei, the source said, noting other potential buyers could include Chinese industry leaders TCL Corp and Konka Group Co Ltd and Sweden's Electrolux AB.

Hong Leong won control of Xinfei in 2005 after a series of investments, making Xinfei a Sino-Singapore joint venture, based in the central Chinese province of Henan.

Hong Leong's investment in Xinfei drew public and media attention in China, where buyout deals were rare as Beijing was reluctant to sell national brands and industry leaders to foreign investors.

Teo Tong Kooi, chief executive of Hong Leong Asia, is also CEO of Xinfei, according to Xinfei's company website. (www.xinfei.com)

A team of bankers and accountants has been set up and assigned to the deal, designated Project White internally, and some potential buyers had been approached by Hong Leong's deal adviser, though no formal plan has been fixed, said the source.

Apart from its core business of refrigerators, Xinfei, which is branded in English as Frestech, also makes other home appliances such as air-conditioners and freezers. (Additional reporting by Kevin Lim in Singapore and Samuel Shen in Shanghai; Editing by Ken Wills and David Holmes)