Symetra Said to Join Apollo in Bid for Aviva’s U.S. Unit

Dec. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Symetra Financial Corp., the life insurer that counts Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. among its largest holders, joined Apollo Global Management LLC to bid for Aviva Plc’s U.S. unit, said two people with knowledge of the matter.

Apollo and Symetra, of Bellevue, Washington, are in advanced talks to buy the unit and may reach a deal within days, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are private. The talks may fail to lead to an agreement, and the bidding group could change, the people said.

Guggenheim Partners LLC, which had earlier paired with Apollo to pursue the bid for the Aviva assets, is no longer part of the group, one of the people said. A sale would occur at a “substantial discount” to the unit’s book value, excluding debt, of 2.4 billion pounds ($3.88 billion), Aviva Chief Financial Officer Pat Regan said last month.

Aviva acquired most of its U.S. operations through the $2.9 billion purchase of Des Moines, Iowa-based AmerUs Group Co. in 2006.

Charles Zehren, a spokesman for New York-based Apollo, declined to comment, as did Andrew Reid of London-based Aviva. A call and e-mail to Diana McSweeney, a media relations manager at Symetra, weren’t returned immediately.

Berkshire Hathaway and White Mountains Insurance Group Ltd. led a group that bought a life insurance unit from Safeco Corp. in 2004 and changed the name to Symetra. They sold shares to the public in 2010. Each retains a 15 percent stake, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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