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Chinese baby formula maker files for Hong Kong IPO

China Feihe seeking an estimated $1bn, two years after shelving first listing

CEBU, Philippines -- China Feihe, an infant formula producer backed by Morgan Stanley Private Equity Asia, has filed for an IPO in Hong Kong, two years after it shelved its first listing application.

The company's filing is heavily redacted, so it is unclear how many shares China Feihe intends to offer and how much it seeks to raise in the IPO. A Bloomberg report in March, however, said the company was gearing up for a listing that could raise as much as $1 billion.

Feihe did not specify how it will use the proceeds from the listing.

It will be Feihe's second attempt to conduct an IPO in Hong Kong. It first applied for a Hong Kong listing in May 2017 but the IPO was put on hold as the company adjusted its corporate structure after acquiring Vitamin World, the third-largest nutritional supplements retailer in the U.S., for $28 million in January 2018.

The Beijing-headquartered company went private after delisting from the New York Stock Exchange in 2013, joining a wave of exits by U.S.-traded Chinese firms.

Feihe is the largest and most recognizable Chinese infant milk formula brand, according to a study conducted by Frost & Sullivan. In 2018, the company accounted for 7.3% market share in China in terms of retail sales and value.

The filing shows that the company's revenue has tripled since its last IPO attempt, driven by fast growth in its core infant formula business. Feihe booked 10.4 billion yuan ($1.5 billion) in revenue in 2018, a 76.5% rise from a year earlier. Net profit rose 93% to 2.2 billion yuan.

Feihe's higher-end products achieved a gross profit rate of 7.6%. These products contributed around 75% of growth in sales of the company's baby formula products last year, according to its preliminary prospectus.

"We are committed to sustaining our market leadership with the highest quality and innovative portfolio of products that cater to the development needs of Chinese babies," the company said.

Feihe's IPO is likely to gauge Chinese consumers' faith in domestic milk production following a major safety scandal in the sector a decade ago. The 2008 melamine scandal was a widespread food safety incident in China that led many Chinese consumers to prefer imported formula.

Early this year, the Chinese government called on domestic suppliers to grow their market share.

"Our vision is to further solidify our market leadership as the most trusted and reputable infant milk formula and nutrition brand, while continuing to expand our product offerings," the company said.

DealStreetAsia is a financial news site based in Singapore that focuses on corporate investment activity in Southeast Asia and India. Nikkei recently announced the acquisition of a majority stake in the company.

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