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Anbang Agrees to Buy Allianz's Operations in South Korea

  • Chinese insurer says it's paying more than $3 million
  • The purchase comes days after Anbang dropped bid for Starwood

Anbang Insurance Group Co., which walked away from a bid to acquire Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. last week, has agreed to buy Allianz SE’s operations in South Korea.

The Chinese insurer will purchase Allianz Life Insurance Korea and Allianz Global Investors Korea, according to a joint statement on Wednesday that didn’t disclose the value of the deal. Anbang said in a separate statement it’s paying more than $3 million for the units. The sale by the Munich-based insurance company comes after Allianz Chief Executive Officer Oliver Baete put the life insurance unit in South Korea under review as part of a push to focus on the most profitable businesses and release capital from less-profitable ones.

Under Chairman Wu Xiaohui, the Beijing-based Anbang has emerged as one of the most acquisitive Chinese conglomerates with purchases focused on real estate and insurance assets. Less than a week ago, the company withdrew a $14 billion takeover bid for U.S. hotel operator Starwood.

The deal is Anbang’s second involving a South Korean insurer and marks a refocus on its core business after a string of high-profile real estate acquisitions. It bought a controlling stake in South Korea’s Tongyang Life Insurance Co. for 1.13 trillion won ($977 million) last year. In November, it agreed to buy HRG Group Inc.’s Fidelity & Guaranty Life for about $1.6 billion to expand in the U.S. and earlier last year it won approval to purchase Dutch insurer Vivat. In 2014, it acquired Antwerp, Belgium-based insurer Fidea.

“This is in line with Anbang’s acquisition of Tongyang Life last year, with possible synergies in distribution and asset management, ” Steven Lam, a Hong Kong-based insurance analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence, said by phone. “Anbang is likely to continue with its M&A spree.”

Anbang Expansion

Closely held Anbang has been expanding into U.S. hotels, bursting onto the scene with its $1.95 billion acquisition of the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York last year in the biggest U.S. real estate deal by a Chinese buyer, according to data from Real Capital Analytics Inc.

The insurer has also agreed to a $6.5 billion purchase of Strategic Hotels & Resorts Inc., an owner of U.S. luxury properties, from Blackstone Group LP. That deal is proceeding as planned, people with knowledge of the matter said in the wake of the aborted Starwood deal.

Taking a Charge

Anbang has also struck deals to buy office properties in New York and Canada, and to acquire Delta Lloyd NV’s Belgian banking unit. The insurer also boosted its stake in Chinese developer China Vanke Co., which is trying to fend off Baoneng Group, a closely held conglomerate that became the real estate company’s largest shareholder in December.

China’s insurance regulator doesn’t support Anbang’s recent overseas acquisitions as they reached the limit of overseas investments by insurers, Caixin reported last month, citing an unidentified person. Chinese insurance companies can’t invest more than 15 percent of their assets abroad under current regulatory rules.

Allianz expects to book a “low two-digit million-euro to mid three-digit million euro” charge once the deal closes following regulatory approval, spokesman Thomas Atkins said by telephone from Munich.

The German insurer took a 244 million-euro ($277 million) loss on the South Korean life and health insurance unit last year on business written in the past. In the fourth quarter, Allianz wrote down 171 million euros, wiping out all of the life goodwill it had for its Asian operations. Most of that was for the South Korean life unit.

Insurers in Europe are grappling with stricter regulatory capital requirements, low interest rates that hurt their investment income and subdued prices in some of their markets. Still, Allianz is seeking to achieve annual earnings per share growth of 5 percent on average from 2016 to 2018. It is also targeting a return on equity of 13 percent, adjusted to exclude unrealized capital gains on bonds and other items, by 2018.

— With assistance by Dingmin Zhang

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