Insurance Deals Head for Biggest Year Since Peak of M&A Boom
Insurance takeovers are headed for the biggest year since the peak of the last merger boom as financial-services firms from Bank of America Corp. to Aegon NV of the Netherlands jettison assets.
Deals in the industry have jumped 60 percent to $44.8 billion so far this year, up from $28 billion in the same period of 2009, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Bank of America, Aegon and Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc have more than $10 billion in insurance assets currently on the block.
The financial crisis that crippled American International Group Inc. is providing a buying opportunity for competitors such as MetLife Inc. and Prudential Financial Inc., which were quicker to recover from the global recession and are seeking growth in new markets. AIG has sold more than 30 assets since its 2008 bailout, while RBS and Amsterdam-based ING Groep NV were told to sell insurance businesses as conditions of their government lifelines.
“There’s a lot of stuff on the market,” said Clark Troy, a senior analyst at researcher Aite Group LLC in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. “For deep-pocketed buyers with firm conviction, it’s a great time to be making acquisitions.”
While the year’s biggest insurance deal collapsed when Prudential Plc shareholders stymied the company’s planned $35.5 billion takeover of AIG’s biggest Asian unit in June, the total value of announced deals is still set to surpass 2008 and 2009, when there were $58 billion and $53 billion in takeovers, respectively, Bloomberg data show. That tally excludes a $40 billion U.S. government infusion into AIG in 2008.
Insurance transactions totaled $90 billion in 2007.
AIG, which is working to repay part of a $182.3 billion government bailout, has held talks with Newark, New Jersey-based Prudential Financial this year about selling two Japanese life insurance units, said two people with knowledge of the matter.
Prudential and AIG still have divergent views on the value of AIG’s Star Life and Edison Life units, said the people, who declined to be identified because the discussions are private. The divisions together had a book value of $4.8 billion as of June 30, AIG said in a regulatory filing.
Insurers that were bailed out are being forced into “making hard decisions about where they want to play and where they don’t,” said Achim Bauer, an insurance partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers in London. “They are seeking to repay some of that money by selling businesses that are non-core.”
ING is required to divest its insurance business by the end of 2013 as part of a restructuring plan to win European Union approval for its government rescue. While the company is preparing the business for one or two initial public offerings, ING is getting “a great deal of interest” from potential buyers, Chief Executive Officer Jan Hommen said on Aug. 11.
RBS agreed in November to unload its insurance businesses, including the Direct Line auto insurer, after receiving 25.5 billion pounds ($40 billion) of state aid. In 2008, RBS had sought as much as 5 billion pounds for the businesses.
Some asset sales are being driven by regulatory changes in the wake of the financial crisis, including the recent U.S. financial overhaul and reforms being contemplated by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, said David Havens, an analyst at Nomura Holdings Inc. in New York.
Bank of America, the largest U.S. lender, is being pushed by regulators to raise a net $3 billion this year. The bank’s Balboa Insurance unit, obtained as part of the Countrywide Financial Corp. acquisition in 2008, is likely to fetch roughly the amount of its policyholder surplus, which was $1.92 billion as of March 31, according to Havens.
“The financial regulations in general are requiring firms to hold more capital, and you can achieve that concept either by raising more capital or reducing risk,” Havens said. “By selling off non-core units you can actually achieve both.
Aegon’s Transamerica Reinsurance unit, which helps life insurers pool their risks, has gotten interest from both competitors and investors, said Aegon CEO Alexander Wynaendts on an Aug. 12 conference call. It has book value, or assets minus liabilities, of 1.6 billion euros ($2 billion). Reinsurance Group of America Inc., the largest U.S. company that focuses on life reinsurance, trades at about 73 percent of book value, implying a value for Transamerica of $1.5 billion.
Some potential buyers, meanwhile, are seeking to free up their capital reserves to fund growth in faster-growing markets like Asia. Paris-based Axa SA, Europe’s second-biggest insurer, agreed in June to sell part of its U.K. life insurance unit to Clive Cowdery’s Resolution Ltd. for 2.75 billion pounds.
MetLife, based in New York, made the biggest purchase of an insurer this year when it agreed to buy AIG’s American Life Insurance Co. for $15.5 billion.
Deals are happening because there is ‘‘a greater level of stability in the system compared to where we were six or 12 months ago,” said Bauer at PricewaterhouseCoopers. “That provides a greater willingness on the part of both buyers and sellers to consider transactions.”