Bermuda's OneBeacon Insurance Group to Explore Sale

  • White Mountains-backed firm is said to work with Credit Suisse
  • Sale process comes as margin pressure spurs industry mergers

OneBeacon Insurance Group Ltd., the specialty insurer controlled by White Mountains Insurance Group Ltd., is exploring a sale, people familiar with the matter said.

The Bermuda-based company recently began working with Credit Suisse Group AG to solicit offers from rival insurers, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the process is private. Representatives for OneBeacon and Credit Suisse declined to comment. A representative for White Mountains didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

With the possibility of lower tax rates under President-elect Donald Trump, the pool of potential buyers in insurance-industry deals could expand to include more U.S.-based companies, Gary Ransom, an analyst at Dowling & Partners, said at a conference Tuesday in New York. In prior years, the buyers in large insurance deals were often from lower-tax jurisdictions, like Switzerland or Bermuda.

“The U.S. can be back in the game,” Ransom said at an event held by the Insurance Information Institute, citing the deal last month by Boston-based Liberty Mutual Holding Co. to acquire Bermuda’s Ironshore Inc. “Suddenly, U.S. companies, if you assume a lower tax rate, they can buy Bermuda companies.”

Shares of OneBeacon rose as much as 13 percent, the most since 2009, in New York trading, giving the company a market value of about $1.6 billion. White Mountains, which owns about 76 percent of OneBeacon, gained 2.2 percent.

Pricing Competition

Pricing competition from hedge funds, as well as low interest rates and other headwinds, are squeezing margins at some property and casualty insurers. That’s putting pressure on the industry to consolidate: Specialty insurer Allied World Assurance Co. agreed in December to be sold to Canada’s Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd. for $4.9 billion.

OneBeacon earned $28.6 million in the third quarter of 2016, after booking a loss of $13.2 million a year earlier, it reported in November.

The company previously explored a sale in early 2015, drawing interest from parties including China’s Fosun International Ltd., people familiar with the matter said at the time.

White Mountains, an investment firm that focuses on insurers, is regularly churning its portfolio. Last year, it sold marketing company Tranzact to buyout firm Clayton Dubilier & Rice for an undisclosed price, and Sirius International Insurance Group Ltd. to an affiliate of China Minsheng Investment Corp. for $2.6 billion.

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