ING U.S. Targets Credit Upgrade as Parent Divests Unit

ING U.S. Inc., the insurer being divested by its Dutch parent, is targeting an upgraded credit rating as capital levels improve.

“Our aspiration is that our rating should be higher in the future,” Chief Financial Officer Ewout Steenbergen said today in an interview at Bloomberg headquarters in New York. “We think based on the facts, where we are at year end, that we hit those criteria.”

ING U.S., with $3.5 billion in debt, is rated BBB- at Standard & Poor’s, the lowest of 10 investment-grade levels. Principal Financial Group Inc. is two grades higher. New York-based ING U.S. reported fourth-quarter net income of $548 million today, compared with a $23 million loss a year earlier. It said measures of indebtedness and solvency beat its targets.

ING U.S. is “hitting credit-quality levels that are higher than the current ratings we have today,” Steenbergen said. “Ratings agencies make their own assessments. Moving upwards is slow.”

ING Groep NV is divesting the U.S. insurance unit to satisfy European Union-ordered conditions of its 2008 bailout. ING Groep, based in Amsterdam, owns about 57 percent of the U.S. business, which is being renamed Voya Financial.

ING U.S. has rallied 80 percent since the first share sale in May. It earned about three-quarters of operating profit from retirement and investment-management businesses, and the rest from insurance offerings last year, according to a presentation to investors today.

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