A yen for U.S. insurers

July 23, 2008


The cheap dollar is helping to tease more investment out of a notoriously shy foreign investment pool – Japan’s insurance industry. In what would be the largest acquisition by a Japanese financial firm in the U.S., Tokio Marine said it plans to buy non-life insurer Philadelphia Consolidated Holding Corp for about $4.7 billion. Tokio Marine is Japan’s largest non-life insurer, and has offered a 73 percent premium to Philadelphia Consolidated investors. Meanwhile, Nippon Life Insurance said it would take a 5 percent stake in U.S. fund and index group Russell Investments. Over the past year, the dollar is down more than 10 percent against the yen, though it is well off lows hit in early March. Japanese insurers, which earn 80 percent of their profit at home, have long been under pressure to diversify abroad to deal with an aging population and slow growth at home.

Shares in British lender HBOS rose more than 12 percent, lifted by market talk of bid interest from Spanish rival BBVA and a broad recovery across the financial sector, traders said. Britain’s largest mortgage lender has underperformed the battered sector in the run-up to its 4 billion pound ($8 billion) rights issue, and concerns about the overhang effect have also weighed, as just 8.3 percent of the shares were taken up. A deal to take on HBOS would be a radical departure for BBVA, Spain’s second-largest bank, which has focused its expansion on emerging markets in Latin America and China and in the southern United States.

Other deals of the day:

* British energy company Centrica is doubling its interest in Belgian generation and supply company SPE SA to 51 percent for 515 million euros ($820 million), overturning a deal by France’s EDF to buy the stake.

* Brazil’s Oi Participacoes bought 947 million reais ($599 million) worth of preferential shares in Brasil Telecom as part of its takeover of the No. 3 telecommunications player, the BM&F Bovespa stock exchange said.

* Thai PTT Chemical said it had agreed to buy a 50 percent stake in a Malaysian oleochemicals firm from German chemicals maker Cognis for 104 million euros ($164 million).

* GlaxoSmithKline, the world’s second largest drugmaker, took a step into the branded generics marketplace via an alliance with South Africa’s Aspen Pharmacare Holdings.

* The head of KT Corp, South Korea’s top fixed-line and broadband firm, has said full integration with its mobile service unit KTF Co would be “desirable”, a KT spokesman said.

* China’s central government and the Shanghai city government are discussing merging Shanghai Airlines with China Eastern Airlines, major Chinese business magazine Caijing reported on its website on Wednesday.

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