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Citic slaps rare 'sell' rating on PICC's Shanghai stock, cites recent surge

A man walks past a backdrop during an investors meeting of The People's Insurance Company (Group) of China Ltd (PICC) in Hong Kong November 22, 2012. REUTERS/Bobby Yip/Files

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China's leading brokerage Citic Securities issued a rare "sell" rating on the Shanghai-listed shares of People's Insurance Group of China (PICC) citing frothy valuations, knocking the stock down and sending ripples across the broader market.

The report also forecast that PICC's yuan-denominated A-shares could slump by more than half over the next 12 months, correcting after their value doubled in the past two weeks.

PICC shares tumbled by the maximum 10 percent daily limit early on Friday, dragging down the broader blue-chip CIS300 Index by as much as 3 percent.

"PICC's A-shares are evidently over-valued, and we give the stock 'sell' rating for the first time," Citic Securities said in the report, which was published late on Thursday.

"We think the stock could potentially fall more than 53.9 percent over the next year," according to the report, produced by a team of analysts lead by Tong Chengdun.

It is rare for analysts in mainland China to give "sell" ratings to stocks as analysts need to maintain good relationship with the companies for access to information. Also, short-selling activities are highly restricted in China, making sell recommendations less valuable than in mature markets.

China's stock market has staged a sharp rebound this year, with the Shanghai Composite Index up about 20 percent and the CIS300 adding nearly a quarter so far, amid looser credit conditions and hopes Beijing and Washington will soon reach a deal to resolve their trade dispute.

There has, however, been signs of a bubble in some areas of the market as risk appetite rapidly increased.

Shares of PICC, which posted a 22 percent drop in 2018 net profit according to brokerage estimates, doubled over the past two weeks to 12.83 yuan as of Thursday. PICC's Hong Kong-traded shares trade at a roughly 70 percent discount.

PICC's A-shares, currently trading at 32.3 times earnings, are over-valued and the rational price range should be 4.71-5.38 yuan, Citic Securities said.

($1 = 6.7237 Chinese yuan)

(Reporting by Samuel Shen and John Ruwitch; Editing by Himani Sarkar)