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Asia Business: The Week in Review - 2004-05-17

Hutchison Whampoa is selling its stake in a China joint venture, while Singapore's number two bank is buying a stake in a Thai competitor.

U.S. consumer products giant Procter and Gamble will now take full ownership of a China joint venture after its partner, Hutchison Whampoa, sold its remaining 20 percent stake in the company. The Hong Kong conglomerate will make nearly $2 billion on the deal.

Hutchison Group Managing Director Canning Fok says his company thinks it sold its stake at the right time for the right price.

But analysts see the sale as a way for Hutchison, controlled by Asia's richest man, Li Ka-shing, to raise money to offset losses in its telecommunications business. The company is expected to sell more assets in the coming months.

Singapore's second largest bank, United Overseas Bank or UOB, bought a majority stake in Thailand's Bank of Asia from Dutch bank ABN Amro for $500 million. UOB says the acquisition boosts its presence in Thailand, where it already has operations.

The National Australia Bank, or NAB, posted a 16 percent increase in net profit for the six months ending in March, despite losing millions of dollars in a currency trading scandal.

Chief Executive John Stewart says he has devoted much of his time to restoring investor confidence in the bank. "I'm completely confident that by taking the right actions - some of which are operational, some cultural - in a period of 12 to 24 months, we can really get great returns," he says.

French auto group Renault will be latest international car company to enter the Chinese market. Renault signed a joint venture agreement with China's third largest automaker, Dongfeng Motor, to build a plant capable of cranking out 300,000 cars a year. The joint venture would be Dongfeng's fifth foreign joint venture.

Also in China, Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell says it signed a $200 million deal with Chinese petroleum company, Sinopec, to build 500 service stations within three years in China's eastern Jiansu province.