Waldorf Buyer Anbang Invests in Property, Banking Stakes

Anbang Insurance Group Co., the Chinese insurer that’s buying New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel, is expanding at home with investments from China Minsheng Banking Corp. to Financial Street Holdings Co.

The insurer became the largest shareholder of Minsheng Bank with a 9.1 percent stake and 10 percent of voting rights, the Beijing-based bank said yesterday. Anbang and its affiliates boosted holdings in Financial Street, a developer of financial-district properties in Beijing, to 20 percent, the property company said separately yesterday.

Anbang, little known until last year, has extended its reach from China to Europe and the U.S. with at least six investments spanning banking, insurance and real estate in the past three months. The Beijing-based company, which says it has about 700 billion yuan ($112 billion) of assets, is planning an initial public offering that could raise about $2 billion, people familiar with the matter said last month.

“Anbang has been a low-profile insurer that suddenly turned aggressive this year in terms of investments,” said Chen Xingyu, a Shanghai-based analyst at Phillip Securities Research. “It’s hard to figure out the real motive or strategy.”

A Beijing-based press officer for Anbang declined to comment, saying the company has never publicly disclosed its strategy.

Shares of Minsheng Bank, China’s first privately owned lender, fell 1.8 percent in Shanghai as of 11:08 a.m. local time, paring this year’s gain to about 46 percent. Financial Street rose 3.3 percent.

Waldorf Purchase

In early October, Anbang agreed to pay $1.95 billion for the Waldorf Astoria hotel, making it the biggest Chinese property purchase in the U.S. A week later, the Chinese company said it acquired Belgium-based insurer Fidea NV for an undisclosed amount. Anbang said this week it will buy a Belgian banking business from Delta Lloyd NV and will seek further acquisitions globally.

In addition to Minsheng Bank, Anbang raised its ownership in China Merchants Bank Co., the nation’s sixth-largest lender, to 10 percent as of Dec. 9. Anbang is also among major shareholders in real-estate developers including China Vanke Co. and Gemdale Corp., according to their third-quarter earnings reports.

Anbang, founded in 2004, had registered capital of 61.9 billion yuan as of this month, making it the nation’s biggest insurer by that measure.

The company has more than 3,000 outlets across China and more than 20 million customers, according to its website. Anbang’s shareholders include state-owned Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp., according to the Beijing Administration for Industry and Commerce’s corporate information database.

— With assistance by Jun Luo

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