Swiss drug maker Novartis is considering a possible initial public offering in China, joining a growing list of multinationals eyeing a listing on Shanghai's planned international board, two people with knowledge of the situation told Reuters.
Novartis is studying the feasibility of a China IPO and has been consulting government agencies, said the sources, who declined to be identified because the information is not public. Novartis spokesman Eric Althoff declined to comment.
Having its shares traded on the Shanghai Stock Exchange could also help Novartis promote its brand in a country where concerns over food and drug safety constantly haunt consumers.
China is among the six countries identified by Novartis as priority emerging markets for the company, where combined net sales grew 12% in 2010 to $4.6 billion, accounting for 10% of the firm's global sales, its annual report said. Novartis expects that proportion to double in five years.
China may launch its international board as soon as this year or next year, as the country wants to boost the global profile of the yuan currency and further liberalize its capital markets. Shang Fulin, chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, said recently the international board was "coming closer and closer" to the market.
Global firms, including HSBC, Standard Chartered, Unilever and Coca-Cola Co have already expressed interest in a listing on the international board.
China may allow about 10 foreign companies to list on the board initially, local media reported earlier this year, citing draft rules. Foreign companies might be allowed to use proceeds from an international board listing for their offshore operations subject to approval from the forex regulator, the 21st Century Business Herald reported in April.
Basel, Switzerland-based Novartis employs more than 5,000 people in China and has invested more than $700 million in the country, betting that rising income among its 1.3 billion people will boost health awareness and drug consumption.
In March, Novartis paid $125 million in cash for a majority stake in Chinese vaccines company Zhejiang Tianyuan Bio-Pharmaceutical, establishing a foothold in China's $1 billion-a-year vaccines market, the world's third largest.