MetLife Weighs U.S. Retail IPO as CEO Seeks Less Oversight

  • New company will have $240 billion in assets, MetLife says
  • Executive VP Eric Steigerwalt to lead separated company

MetLife Inc., the largest U.S. life insurer, plans to separate much of its domestic retail business as Chief Executive Officer Steve Kandarian works to shrink the company amid tighter government oversight. The stock rallied in extended trading.

Steven 'Steve' Kandarian

Steven Kandarian.

Photographer: Simon Dawson

The insurer is weighing a possible sale, spinoff or public offering of the operation, New York-based MetLife said Tuesday in a statement. The new company would have about $240 billion of assets and accounts for approximately 20 percent of MetLife’s operating earnings, according to the statement.

MetLife joins General Electric Co.’s finance unit in seeking to simplify operations after being designated by a U.S. panel as a non-bank systemically important financial institution, a tag that can lead to stricter limits on the balance sheet. Kandarian has sought to reverse that designation in court.

The retail business, as part of a SIFI, faces “higher capital requirements that could put it at a significant competitive disadvantage,” Kandarian said in the statement. “Even though we are appealing our SIFI designation in court and do not believe any part of MetLife is systemic, this risk of increased capital requirements contributed to our decision to pursue the separation.”

Share Rebound

MetLife rallied 6.6 percent to $44.76 at 6:28 p.m. in New York on the announcement, which was after the close of regular trading. The company had dropped 13 percent this year through Tuesday’s close after slumping 11 percent in 2015.

MetLife would retain units providing workplace benefits and property-casualty coverage along with the corporate benefit funding division that offers pension and retirement products. Kandarian’s company also plans to keep operations in Asia, Latin America, Europe the Middle East and Africa.

The retail unit slated for separation is a provider of variable annuities, where results can be tied to fluctuations in stock markets and interest rates. The new company would also include life insurance entities. MetLife didn’t outline a timetable for the plan, saying the completion of a transaction could depend on market conditions, and also regulatory approvals.

‘Growth Prospects’

Breaking off a retail unit would leave MetLife “with a regulated set of businesses, but less heavily regulated than retail products,” David Havens, a debt analyst at Imperial Capital, said in a note. “It should also leave MET with a large international portfolio that has good long-term growth prospects.”

The insurer said Executive Vice President Eric Steigerwalt will lead the new company. He previously ran the domestic retail business and was named in November as interim head of U.S. operations, which added responsibility for segments including group coverage and workplace benefits.

Under a prior management structure, all operations in the Americas were overseen by William Wheeler, the insurer’s former chief financial officer. Wheeler departed last year and became president of Athene Holding Ltd., the insurer with ties to Apollo Global Management LLC.

Maria Morris, executive vice president and head of global employee benefits, was named interim head of the remaining parts of MetLife’s U.S. businesses, according to John Calagna, a spokesman for the company. Oscar Schmidt will continue to lead Latin American operations.

MetLife is among four non-bank companies that were named SIFIs by the Financial Stability Oversight Council. That panel was created by the 2010 Dodd-Frank law and charged with monitoring potential threats to the financial system after the near collapse in 2008 of companies including insurer American International Group Inc., which required a U.S. bailout.

GE, AIG

GE has been divesting finance operations and has said it will apply to drop its tag as a SIFI. Prudential Financial Inc., the second-largest U.S. life insurer, in 2013 opted against filing a lawsuit to overturn its SIFI status.

AIG, also a SIFI, has been facing pressure from activist investor Carl Icahn to break up into three separate businesses --- one offering property-casualty coverage, another selling life insurance and a third backing mortgages. Icahn has said the risk tag is intended to be a tax on size and AIG’s businesses would be worth more to shareholders if they’re not part of a systemically important company.

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