China Merchants Bank Slumps on Surprise Removal of President

(Bloomberg) – China Merchants Bank Co. slumped in Shanghai and Hong Kong markets Tuesday after the surprising departure of its President Tian Huiyu, who spent nearly nine years building the lender into the nation’s king of retail banking.

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Tian, ​​56, was removed from his current role and subject to further assignment with immediate effect, the Shenzhen-based bank said in a statement late Monday. Wang Liang, chief financial officer and board secretary of the Merchants Bank, will be in charge in the interim, according to the statement.

Shares of Merchants Bank dropped 3% in Shanghai in Tuesday’s early trade, adding to Monday’s 7.4% slump on unverified social media reports that Tian was assisting a probe. The stock has lost 14% this year, making it the worst performer among publicly-traded banks on the mainland. It fell 11% in Hong Kong as of 9:32 am, the most since late 2011. About $ 19 billion of market value was wiped out in two days.

Tian did not join the board meeting held on Monday due to personal reasons, the lender said in the statement, adding the decision will not affect its operations. Tian’s current term is scheduled to end in June. They will join the parent company of China Merchants Group as a deputy head for its financial business division, Cailian reported late Monday, without citing anyone.

The abrupt move comes as China has stepped up its efforts to root out corruption in its $ 60 trillion finance sector to keep systemic risks in check, as the nation battles a slowing economy, a cash-strapped real estate sector and worsening Covid outbreaks. The top disciplinary body sharply criticized more than two dozen financial regulators and state banks in February, saying they had common problems including prominent corruption around key positions and areas.

Tian has been helming Merchants Bank since May 2013. Prior to that, he held various roles at other Chinese lenders including Bank of Shanghai Co. and once served as a secretary for Vice President Wang Qishan when the latter headed state-owned China Construction Bank Corp. in the 1990s.

Unlike most Chinese lenders that relied heavily on wholesale lending and corporate clients, Merchants Bank, based in the southern technology hub of Shenzhen, has benefited from its focus on retail banking. That strategy had sheltered it from the nation’s economic slowdown in the past few years and earned it a valuation premium over peers. Even after Monday’s drop, the bank still trades at about 1.5 times its book value, more than double the average for its peers listed on both the mainland and Hong Kong markets.

Merchants Bank reported a 23% increase in net income last year, its fastest growth since 2012. The lender’s total assets had more than doubled since end-2013 to 9.25 trillion yuan ($ 1.5 trillion) by December under Tian’s leadership.

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