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Friends Life to Return Cash After Blackstone Buys Lombard

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July 11 (Bloomberg) -- Friends Life Group Ltd., the insurer created by Clive Cowdery, plans to return cash to shareholders after Blackstone Group LP agreed to buy its European wealth-management unit for as much as 356 million pounds ($610 million).

The sale of Lombard includes a 56 million-pound deferred payment in the form of a vendor loan note and an estimated 7 million-pound interest equivalent, the London-based company said in a statement today. The insurer said it plans to return 261 million pounds to shareholders through a share buyback.

“There weren’t any synergistic benefits from keeping Lombard,” Friends Life Chief Executive Officer Andy Briggs said in a telephone interview from London today. “We’re not sitting here thinking that there are further steps we need to take. We are very confident that we have a very strong capital base even post the buyback.”

The insurer’s predecessor, Friends Provident, acquired Lombard for 265 million euros ($361 million) in 2004 to expand internationally and boost revenue from wealthy clients. It tried to sell the unit, which today has about 20.8 million pounds in gross assets, in 2008 and couldn’t find a buyer.

The insurer also owns Sesame Bankhall Group Ltd., formed in 2009, and Friends Provident International. Briggs said today a strategic review of Sesame, a financial-advisory company, was continuing and declined to comment further.

The Financial Times reported in June that LSL Property Services Plc was close to bidding for Sesame’s mortgage network, without saying where it got the information.

Friends Life’s shares climbed 1.4 percent to 324.7 pence at 11:56 a.m. in London trading. The shares are down more than 7 percent since the the U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne scrapped rules in his March budget that pushed retirees to buy an annuity.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sarah Jones in London at sjones35@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Simone Meier at smeier@bloomberg.net Steve Bailey, Jon Menon

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