Central Huijin Investment Ltd. said Tuesday that the imminent expiry of a lockup period on its holdings in Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd. (1398.HK) doesn't mean it will reduce the stake.

Huijin stopped short from saying it won't sell any shares in ICBC but its statement is an apparent effort to reassure jittery investors over the fate of ICBC as a large portion of its shares will soon be free to float on the market.

Huijin's holdings of 118 billion ICBC's yuan-denominated A shares will be freed for sale from Tuesday next week.The shares represent about 35% of ICBC's capital base.

At midday, ICBC's A-shares were up 0.20% to CNY5.12, while the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index was 0.17% lower to 3079.22 after it closed at its highest closing level in more than two months Tuesday.

Central Huijin, the domestic investment arm of China's US$300 billion sovereign wealth fund, said in a statement posted on its Web site the expiry won't affect the government's requirement that Huijin hold controlling stakes in major state-run financial institutions.

Huijin will continue to "ensure the state owns controlling stakes in major state-run financial institutions and support these institutions to operate and develop business in a stable way", the statement said.

Huijin's statement came after Allianz SE (AZ) and American Express Co. (AXP) said Monday they would keep their holdings in ICBC. The lockup period for the German insurer's 0.96% stake in ICBC and the U.S. credit card issuer's 0.19% expired Tuesday.

It's the second time in a month Huijin has given such an assurance, apparently aimed at easing investor concerns that bank shares could come under pressure as lockup clauses, which were part of Chinese lenders' listing plans, expire.

In mid-October, Huijin said it would continue buying shares in the country's three largest banks over the next year.

Last month, Huijin completed a year-long program to buy shares in ICBC and its two state-run peers - China Construction Bank Corp. (0939.HK) and Bank of China Ltd. - on the open market.

Another 118 billion, or 35% of ICBC's A-shares held by the Ministry of Finance are also under a lockup clause until Monday and will be free for float Tuesday.

Of the total 334 billion shares of ICBC, 13.2 billion H-shares now trading in Hong Kong are held by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS). Goldman Sachs' shares will continue to be subject to a lockup period until April next year, while the rest will be all free for float from Tuesday next week, ICBC said in a statement Wednesday.

-Victoria Ruan contributed to this article, Dow Jones Newswires; 8610 6588-5848; victoria.ruan@dowjones.com

 
 
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