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Ping An seeks to sell $2.1 billion stake in Autohome -sources

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·3-min read
FILE PHOTO: The company logo of Ping An Insurance is seen in Beijing
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By Julie Zhu and Kane Wu

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Financial conglomerate Ping An Insurance Group of China is seeking to offload its 44% stake in auto services portal Autohome, three people familiar with the situation told Reuters.

Ping An, which is currently the biggest shareholder of Beijing-based Autohome via an offshore entity, has held talks with several strategic and private equity investors for the stake in recent months, said the people.

The stake would be worth around $2.15 billion based on Authome's current valuation.

Autohome faces growing difficulties in China where automakers, in particular electric vehicle (EV) makers, increasingly rely on their own distribution networks instead of dealerships for sales, said two of the people.

That has affected the business of many dealers in the world's biggest auto market and then forced them to cut budgets for online portals like Autohome, said the people.

Founded in 2005, Autohome mainly serves as an information portal for automobile buyers and an online car-trading marketplace in China.

Advertisements and fees from automakers and dealers generally account for more than 80% of its revenue as they use its platform for services including brand and sales promotions.

Ping An, China's largest insurer by market value, declined to comment on "market rumours". Autohome, which is listed in both New York and Hong Kong, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Autohome's U.S.-listed stock was down more than 70% Thursday from this year's peak of $147.7 in January. It went public in Hong Kong in March with lukewarm interest and its share price has fallen more than 60% from a peak of HK$199.60 in March.

Australian telecom giant Telstra sold its 47.4% stake in Autohome to Ping An in 2016 for $1.6 billion, saying Autohome would benefit from the Ping An's expertise in car insurance and financing as it moved away from being purely online and began offline sales in China.

Ping An's insurance business and investment returns have been hit by weakness in China's economy, which posted its slowest growth in a year in the third quarter as power shortages and property sector worries took a toll.

The insurer reported a 31.2% fall in third-quarter net profit due to lower premium income and losses on investment assets.

Ping An had reached out to Tencent Holdings for the stake sale, said two of the sources. The internet and gaming giant owns Bitauto, an online platform similar to Autohome.

However, Tencent did not deem the deal viable due to antitrust concerns, said one of them.

Tencent did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Autohome reported $300 million of net revenue and $116 million of net income for the second quarter this year, down 16% and 9% respectively year-on-year.

It has 64 million monthly active users on its mobile phone app and 45 million daily active users on its web portal, according to its website.

(Reporting by Julie Zhu and Kane Wu; Editing by Stephen Coates)

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