Malaysian palm oil giant Felda said Thursday its initial public offering in June could raise up to 10.5 billion ringgit ($3.3 billion), making it the world's second-biggest IPO this year after Facebook.
State-owned Felda Global Venture Holdings said the estimated proceeds were based on a 4.55 ringgit ($1.4) per share price for retail investors. The IPO, which has met resistance from farmers, comes amid turmoil in financial markets that prompted London-based jeweler Graff Diamonds to Thursday shelve its $1.5 billion IPO in Hong Kong.
Felda Chief Executive Sabri Ahmad brushed aside concerns over weakness in global stock markets, saying emerging nations in Asia were an attractive option for investors amid Europe's debt crisis.
"This is safe haven. This is a good asset and we have a good track record," he told a news conference. The IPO has attracted 12 key institutional investors including Qatar Investment and French agribusiness giant Louis Dreyfus, he said.
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak, who launched the prospectus, said the IPO would be the largest in Asia this year and second biggest in the world after Facebook, which raised $16 billion. Facebook's share price has slumped since its debut last month.
"I believe Felda will perform better than Facebook," Najib said. It is set to list June 28.
Najib said IPO would create wealth for Malaysians and help Felda grow into an international company.
Proceeds from the IPO will be used to boost Felda's expansion in Southeast Asia and Africa.
The IPO, which comes ahead of Malaysian general elections expected this year, faces resistance from thousands of ethnic Malay farmers who fear they would not receive their fair share of benefits.
Felda was set up by the government in the 1950s as part of a rural development plan to alleviate poverty by giving poor Malays land to grow cash crops mainly palm oil and rubber.
Some 200,000 farmers grouped under the Felda Investment Cooperative own 51 percent of Felda Holdings, while Felda Global Venture Holdings has the remaining 49 percent. Under the listing proposal, farmers will swap their stake in Felda Holdings for a 61 percent stake in Felda Global.
Critics warned farmers may lose out because Felda Global's international subsidiaries had reportedly accumulated losses running in the millions. On the other hand, Felda Holdings is hugely profitable, with a massive 880,000 hectares (2.2 million acres) in Malaysia.
Najib has assured the farmers that the listing would be profitable for them, and has promised a 1.68 billion ringgit ($529 million) windfall for the farmers and their families.
The farmers are mainly ethnic Malay Muslims, who make up about two-thirds of Malaysia's 28 million people. It is a delicate issue for the government because their protests could undermine Najib's coalition in national polls.
The Felda group owns 70 palm oil mills, seven refineries as well as a string of other manufacturing plants nationwide. It produces about 3 million tons of crude palm oil annually, or about 8 percent of world output.
Felda Global is expected to overtake Malaysian conglomerate Sime Darby as the world's largest listed plantation group.