UPDATE 1-Zurich pares New China Life stake to diversify in Asia

Fri Jul 12, 2013 12:20pm EDT

* Zurich sells $283 mln worth of shares in New China Life

* Makes gain of $152 mln after tax, will reinvest in Asia

* Says push to diversify drove sale (Changes dateline, adds Zurich comment, details)

HONG KONG/ZURICH, July 12 (Reuters) - Zurich Financial Services has sold about $283 million worth of shares in New China Life Insurance, paring its stake in China's third-biggest life insurer in an attempt to diversify its Asian portfolio.

Shares in New China Life (NCI) have slipped more than 20 percent in Hong Kong since the start of 2013. Zurich said the sale was a move to address its financial exposure to a large single holding.

"We want to take the proceeds and re-invest it in the same region but on a broader, diversified basis," a spokesman for Zurich said, adding that the Swiss insurer had made a capital gain of about $152 million after tax from the sale.

Zurich offered 97.5 million Hong Kong shares of NCI in a private placement to a small group of institutional investors at HK$22.50 each, putting the total deal at HK$2.19 billion ($283 million), in line with figures reported earlier by Reuters.

The price is equivalent to a 6.4 percent discount to the company's closing price on Thursday.

Zurich has a 9.4 percent stake in the Chinese insurer after the sale. Its previous stake was not immediately available.

Shares in the Swiss company traded higher on Friday.

Central banks in the United States and Europe slashed interest rates close to zero to prop up the economy after the 2008 banking crisis, dragging down bond yields and weighing on insurers' investment income.

European and U.S. life insurers are likely to seek takeovers in booming Asia and put more money into riskier assets this year to bolster flagging profits, Moody's said in January.

New China Life also has shares traded in Shanghai . Goldman Sachs acted as sole global coordinator on the share sale. ($1 = 7.7566 Hong Kong dollars) (Reporting by Elzio Barreto and Alice Baghdjian; editing by Paul Tait and Tom Pfeiffer)

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