EXCLUSIVE-Protective in lead for AXA US insurance assets -sources

Tue Mar 26, 2013 3:02pm EDT

(Adds detail on banker, background)

NEW YORK, March 26 (Reuters) - U.S. insurer Protective Life Insurance is the leading candidate to buy some of AXA SA's U.S. life insurance assets in a deal that could be valued at around $1 billion, according to two people familiar with the situation.

French insurer AXA hired Morgan Stanley last year to help find a buyer for the assets, including remnants of the Mony Group Inc business that it acquired in 2004, said the people, who asked not to be named because the matter is not public.

AXA, which bought New York-based life insurer Mony Group for $1.5 billion, has been expanding into emerging markets while scaling back its presence in North America after years of underperformance.

An AXA spokeswoman declined to comment. Birmingham, Alabama-based Protective Life and New York-based Morgan Stanley did not immediately respond to requests for comment. (Reporting By Jessica Toonkel; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick, Bernard Orr)