DealZone

Clock ticks as AIG ponders AIA’s prospects

American International Group CEO Robert Benmosche asked the insurer’s board for time to explore options besides a public offering for its Asian life unit after a $35.5 billion deal to sell it to Prudential fell apart, a source familiar with the matter tells Paritosh Bansal.

Benmosche wanted to explore other options for American International Assurance, including selling parts of the business, after the directors on Monday voted down a sale to Prudential on revised terms, the source said. The British insurer had asked AIG to cut the price to $30.4 billion.

Putting aside for the moment what AIA may actually be worth, AIG’s board and even Uncle Sam can possibly be forgiven for not wanting to appear too desperate to sell. They certainly would have had a harder time setting prices for other assets if Pru was able to knock a sixth off the price just for asking.

Plus, there appears to be surprisingly little appetite in Washington for holding AIG’s feet to the fire to get back the tens of billions of dollars in bailout support that made the U.S. government AIG’s most dominant shareholder and creditor.

A date has yet to be set for the next board meeting on the issue of what to do with AIA, but with congressional elections in November, the longer they wait, the bigger the risk that hawkish politicians begin to circle.

AIG won’t haggle?!

With an outstanding IOU to Uncle Sam of more than $50 billion, AIG hardly seems to be in a position to turn up its nose at a lower bid for AIA from Britain’s Prudential. The message was pretty clear to Pru’s CEO Tidjane Thiam that his shareholders were in little mood to approve a $21 billion rights issue to fund a $35 billion purchase of AIG’s Asian assets. So he came back with a $30 billion offer. No surprises there. He’d be mad not to haggle, particularly given it looks like Pru is the only buyer out there.

Suggestions that AIG would opt for an IPO of the Asian business shouldn’t have been much of a threat to Pru’s bid. Expectations were that AIG would get around half what Pru was offering – after haggling – if it went to market, and that assumed a market with a whole lot more appetite for new issues than the one AIG is now looking at.

So what gives? Does AIG have some mystery buyer waiting in the wings willing to hit its magic price tag? Or has AIG CEO Robert Benmosche been given some secret blessing by the U.S. Treasury to slow down the asset sales and try to rebuild the business? That’s almost harder to believe than the white knight suggestion. This is an election year, and politicians will smell blood if it starts to look like AIG is dragging its heels in paying its bills.

Pru looks to appease shareholders

IAAPrudential’s strategy to appease shareholders: It will spit out what it can’t chew as it swallows a business bigger than itself.

The UK’s largest insurer is expected to outline divestments of some Asian assets in its upcoming rights offering prospectus to allay concerns about its planned $35.5 billion acquisition of AIA, AIG’s Asian life insurance unit.

Shareholders have become fretful about Prudential’s ability to pull off the mega transaction. It hit a regulatory snag last week and delayed the release of the prospectus for the $21 billion rights issue to part fund the deal.

MetLife gets new life from AIG

MetLife is moving up in Japan, the world’s second-largest life insurance market, with the $15.5 billion purchase of Alico from AIG. The unit accounted for 70 percent of Alico’s pre-tax operating income in fiscal year. It also has operations in Europe and emerging markets in Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Latin America. Much like the $35.5 billion sale of AIG’s Hong Kong-based AIA subsidiary the week before to Prudential of the U.K, a chunk of AIG is a transformative expansion for Metlife.

Both AIG and Metlife share rose on the news – one of those win-win deals, the market says. But if you want to be skeptical, just keep in mind that AIG is still only part of the way towards repaying the $182.3 billion it owes the U.S. government and Metlife has just exposed itself to an aging Japanese population with prospects in some ways even more worrying than in the U.S., given its lost decade and its near-routine bouts of deflation.

One thing Metlife will not have to worry about is having a government functionary on its board. Though the sale features a sizable equity component from AIG, we’re told that the chance of Uncle Sam calling the shots at yet another major U.S. corporation is nil.

Prudential’s Eastern promise

(Acquisitions Monthly) Tidjane Thiam unveiled his proposal to transform the Pru into an Asian-focused animal just five months after taking over as chief executive of the stately British insurer. The former Aviva man obviously feels the opportunity presented by state-supported AIG’s effectively forced sale of its Asian crown jewel was too immense to ignore.

The US$35 billion transaction – the biggest ever in the sector – also fits in with the currently accepted reading of the financial runes: that the thriving economies of Asia will provide much of the next decade’s growth. Nevertheless Thiam has done well to secure the services of three of the financial crisis’s undoubted winners in Credit Suisse, JP Morgan Cazenove and HSBC.

The impressive line-up are only too willing to flex their financial might to back such a deal through a US$21 billion underwritten rights issue, the largest ever for acquisition purposes. If the Pru’s biggest investors, Capital, BlackRock and Legal & General, are unwilling to take up their rights, finding fresh investors should not be too difficult.