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Hartford Says Annuity-Block Sale More Likely as Markets Gain

March 29 (Bloomberg) -- Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., the insurer narrowing its focus under pressure from billionaire investor John Paulson, said it is more likely to divest its annuity business after stock markets rose.

Hartford is considering sales, securitizations and reinsurance transactions to reduce risk tied to liabilities on the equity-linked products it sold in the U.S. and Japan in prior years, Chief Executive Officer Liam McGee said today at a conference in New York organized by JPMorgan Chase & Co. Deals become appealing as markets advance, McGee said.

“There are the beginnings of markets that are appearing to be receptive to transactions on annuity, particularly U.S. books,” McGee said. “And if the yen continues to weaken we would expect there might be some interest in the Japanese book as well.”

Hartford will stop selling individual annuities and seek buyers for its individual life, Woodbury Financial Services and retirement-plan operations, the company said last week.

“The phones are ringing off the hook for all three businesses,” McGee said today.

Paulson, who controls the largest stake in the insurer, said last month that the company should be split to free Hartford’s property-casualty business from life insurance and the risks associated with annuity liabilities.

“Our ultimate goal is to isolate that risk from the ongoing businesses,” McGee said.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index has gained about 11 percent since Dec. 31 and is up 20 percent over the last six months. The dollar has gained more than 6 percent against the yen this year.

Share Rebound

McGee’s firm climbed 31 percent this year through yesterday, the third-best performance in the 24-company KBW Insurance Index. The company slipped 32 cents to $21.03 at 4:01 p.m. in New York. Hartford, based in the Connecticut city of the same name, needs to reach about $24.71 to recoup Paulson’s investment, filings to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and data compiled by Bloomberg showed last month.

The insurer traded for more than $100 a share in 2007 before investment losses at the life insurance unit and costs tied to annuity contracts pushed the company to take a capital injection from Germany’s Allianz SE and a U.S. bailout. McGee, who took over for Ramani Ayer in late 2009, repaid the government rescue the next year.

Paulson told McGee in a February conference call to “do something drastic” to boost the company’s stock price. Hartford trades at less than half its book value while Travelers Cos., which focuses on property-casualty coverage, was at more than 90 percent of the measure of assets minus liabilities yesterday.

To contact the reporters on this story: Andrew Frye in New York at afrye@bloomberg.net; Andrea Ludtke in New York at aludtke@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Dan Kraut at dkraut2@bloomberg.net

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