UPDATE 2-Manulife eyes M&A to bulk up mutual fund business

Thu Sep 23, 2010 2:37pm EDT

* Company targets "tuck-in" deals

* Regulatory uncertainty means fewer takeovers in general (Adds details, background, shares)

TORONTO, Sept 23 (Reuters) - Manulife Financial (MFC.TO) is eyeing acquisitions to bulk up its mutual fund business, although prospects for big takeovers in the insurance industry are slim due to regulatory uncertainty, the head of Manulife's Canadian business said on Thursday.

"We're making a conscious effort to grow in the (mutual fund) business ... so we'll look at potential acquisitions," Manulife Canada Chief Executive Paul Rooney said at the CIBC Institutional Investor conference in Montreal,

Manulife is Canada's largest insurance company, and like its Canadian peers, it also offers mutual-fund and other banking services.

The company owns the John Hancock brand in the United States, and is also trying to expand in Asia. Rooney said any takeovers in Canada would likely be small "tuck-in" acquisitions of assets smaller than Manulife's current mutual fund business.

Last year Manulife bought AIC Ltd's mutual fund business -- comprising C$3.8 billion ($3.7 billion) in assets under management -- for an undisclosed sum.

A more "transformational" takeover would only be likely if Manulife sees an attractive target in Asia that could fast-track growth there, Rooney said.. A takeover in the United States would be a "challenge".

However, a large move is unlikely in the immediate future, due to regulatory uncertainty, he said.

"In this uncertain accounting and capital environment, I think the prospects for a big one anywhere in the world by anyone are greatly diminished," he said.

Insurers have been nervous about the extent of new rules set to be handed down by the International Accounting Standards Board, which could alter the way insurers calculate income.

The company's shares were up 6 Canadian cents at C$12.85 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Thursday afternoon.

($1=$1.03 Canadian) (Reporting by Cameron French; editing by Peter Galloway)