HONG KONG - Chinese private equity firm CITIC Capital plans to take private AsiaInfo Technologies Ltd in a deal that could value the telecom software provider at about $1.8 billion, two people with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters. AsiaInfo's largest shareholder with a 23.4% stake is talking with banks to finance the deal, said the people - plus two other people - in what would add to a surge in buyout firms tapping Hong Kong for take-private opportunities. CITIC denied the deal. The people said CITIC aims to pursue the deal in partnership with China Mobile Communications Group Co Ltd - AsiaInfo's second-biggest shareholder with a 19.9% stake and parent of leading network provider China Mobile Ltd. The goal is to eventually list AsiaInfo on the mainland to take advantage of higher valuations, said one of the people, who declined to be identified due to confidentiality constraints. A prospective offer from the flagship alternative investment arm of financial conglomerate CITIC Group Corp would represent a premium of about 30% to AsiaInfo's average share price over the past month of HK$11.5 ($1.48), the people said. CITIC said the information about its plans for taking AsiaInfo private, the deal's financing and partnering with China Mobile Communications is inaccurate. AsiaInfo and China Mobile did not respond to requests for comment. Beijing-based AsiaInfo was established in 1993 and currently provides services such as cloud consulting and operation to over 200 telecos, including state-owned majors China Mobile, China Telecom Corp Ltd and China Unicom. Its stock price has fallen 14% since a mid-September peak while the benchmark Hang Seng Index has gained 9% in the same period. UNDERVALUED Hong Kong-listed firms have been involved in $21.5 billion worth of take-private deals so far in 2020, versus $8.6 billion for all of last year, Refinitiv data showed. Buyers often cited undervalued shares as a reason for the deals. An abundance of funds at private equity firms and other long-term investors coupled with few avenues to earn worthwhile returns have pushed average premiums paid to 43% this year from 34% in 2018, the data showed. Last year, CITIC raised $2.8 billion https://www.reuters.com/article/us-citiccapital-fundraising-idUSKCN1UY07K in its fourth and biggest China buyout fund. Founded in 2002, the private equity firm has invested in over 200 portfolio companies totalling $32 billion worth of assets, with investments including courier SF Express and the Chinese unit of McDonald's Corp. ($1 = 7.7515 Hong Kong dollars) REUTERS
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