Hartford Financial Said Near Japan Sale to Orix

Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., the insurer that’s been focusing on property-casualty coverage, is near a deal to sell Japan operations to Orix Corp., according to two people with knowledge of their talks.

The transaction would include retirement products known as variable annuities, said the people, who asked not to be identified because discussions are private. Orix would pay about $875 million, according to Nikkei, which reported on the talks yesterday.

Hartford Chief Executive Officer Liam McGee, 59, has sold a U.S. unit to Prudential Financial Inc. and added hedges to guard against currency fluctuations and stock-market declines as he seeks to limit liabilities tied to life and retirement contracts issued in prior years. He announced a deal last year to sell a U.K. variable annuity unit to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

“We continue to look at ways to further accelerate the runoff of the legacy annuity block and to permanently eliminate these exposures, Shannon Lapierre, a spokeswoman for the Hartford, Connecticut-based insurer, said in an e-mail yesterday. ‘‘A transaction is one of the options we would evaluate.’’

Hartford advanced 0.9 percent to $35.25 in New York trading yesterday, paring its decline this year to 2.7 percent.

Lapierre said any offer would be evaluated based on the likelihood of regulators’ support and the prospect that a deal would help release capital. She declined to comment on Orix, citing company policy about market speculation. Atsushi Horii, a Tokyo-based spokesman for Orix, declined to comment.

Economic Value

John Nadel, an analyst at Sterne Agee & Leach Inc., said he expects the sale to free up at least $600 million of capital that was backing Japanese obligations. Hartford had about 305,000 variable annuity contracts outstanding in Japan as of Dec. 31, according to a document on the company’s website.

‘‘Management has consistently indicated it would sell the block only if it was able to generate something close to the true economic value of the business,” Nadel said in a research note yesterday. “We have a high level of confidence in management to do exactly that.”

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