Malaysia's Felda Global leaps 18 percent on debut

Shares in Malaysian palm oil giant Felda Global jumped 18.46 percent on its stock market debut Thursday, defying global economic doldrums with the world's second-largest IPO this year after Facebook.

Prime Minister Najib Razak, expected to call elections soon, has thrown his weight behind the listing, promising it will benefit tens of thousands of settler families who own part of the oil palm plantation land.

Felda Global opened at 5.39 ringgit ($1.69) on the Bursa Malaysia, well up from the institutional price of 4.55 ringgit in the flotation.

The IPO raised 10.4 billion ringgit ($3.25 billion), said the company, which is the world's third-largest palm oil company by acreage.

"We are very excited because the successful completion of this IPO heralds (Felda Global's) transformation" from an agriculture business to an expanding conglomerate, company chairman Mohamad Isa Abdul Samad said in a statement.

Despite the dark shadow that the eurozone debt crisis continues to cast over global financial markets, and the jitters sparked by Facebook's disastrous listing last month, analysts said Felda shares were well supported.

Ooi Chin Hock, a dealer with Malaysia's M & A Securities, said local fund managers were buying the shares, which were the most actively traded Thursday.

By the close of morning trading, the price stood at 5.29 ringgit, down from the opening price on profit taking, Ooi said, adding he expected the price to rebound in the afternoon. The morning's high was 5.46 ringgit, he said.

Felda Global president Sabri Ahmad said the opening price was "within expectations" given the strong demand for the stock, which was 43 times oversubscribed.

Facebook raised $16 billion from its IPO but its shares have plummeted since its debut.

The volatile economic environment has also forced the delay of other major offerings across Asia including a planned $2.5 billion Formula One listing in Singapore.

But Ernst and Young said momentum of IPOs in Southeast Asia was driven by "resilient financial performance, the support of cornerstone investors, pension and other funds, and ample liquidity".

"The IPO pipeline remains relatively strong in Southeast Asia. There are still many regional players looking to tap the equity market to raise capital," it said in a release Wednesday.

Palm oil is a key ingredient in soap and a range of food products whose consumption is predicted to soar in coming years, fuelled by growth in Asian economies.

The price of palm oil has tripled in the last decade, and the industry is the fourth-largest contributor to the Malaysian economy.

Felda Global has said it will expand to Southeast Asian countries and Africa to grow oil palm, rubber and sugar cane and that demand for palm oil is good in China and India.

Funds raised from the listing will also be used to replant mature oil palms, among others.

The company is an arm of the Federal Land Development Authority, a government agency that previously provided land to the rural poor.

Premier Najib announced the listing plan in October as part of a wider push to divest state-run firms and increase foreign investment in the Southeast Asian country.

Najib, who must call a general election by next April, also hopes to curry favour with the settler families who will each get a 15,000 ringgit cash payment from the listing.

He has pledged it will benefit more than 112,000 settler families.

Some settlers have opposed the listing due to concerns that the scheme may expose them to more risk and potentially rob them of their land but Felda Global has denied it.

Analysts say the scheme will help Malaysia's $27 billion palm oil sector -- the world's second largest -- compete more efficiently with top producer Indonesia.

Felda Global is the biggest IPO in Malaysia since state oil firm Petronas' unit Petronas Chemicals Group Bhd. raised $4.14 billion in late 2010.

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