TOKYO Dai-ichi Life Insurance Co (8750.T) will take full control of Tower Australia Group Ltd TAL.AX for $1.2 billion in cash, the latest in overseas acquisitions by Japanese insurers keen to move away from a stagnant home market.
It is the first major purchase by Japan's No.2 life insurer since its $11 billion stock market debut in April, and is another deal for Australia's $1.2 trillion wealth management sector, which is growing thanks to compulsory private pension schemes.
While Dai-ichi did not raise any money through its IPO, it said it would use it as a springboard to push into overseas markets to address concerns about its growth prospects in Japan, where the population is shrinking.
It will pay A$4.00 per share for all the shares it does not own in Tower Australia, a 47 percent premium over Tower's latest closing price. Dai-ichi is currently the biggest shareholder in the midsized life insurer, with a 29 percent stake.
"This is a positive move," said Ryosuke Okazaki, chief investment officer at ITC Investment Partners in Tokyo.
"Top management is being decisive and if it did not take steps like this there wouldn't have been any point to it becoming a listed company."
The buyout ranks as the Japan's third biggest insurance acquisition after Tokio Marine Holdings, Japan's No. 2 non-life insurer, spent $4.7 billion to buy U.S. insurer Philadelphia Consolidated and 442 million pounds to buy Lloyd's of London insurer Kiln Plc.
Overseas acquisitions made by Japanese insurers hit a peak in 2008 with 547 billion yen worth of deals struck. This year there has been 109 billion yen worth of transactions made.
Dai-ichi said the deal will increase the amount of net profit derived from overseas to 9 percent from 3 percent. It had 55.6 billion yen net profit for the year ended March 2010.
Dai-ichi also has minority stakes in Ocean Life Insurance Co in Thailand and Star Union Dai-ichi Life Insurance Co in India.
Australia's wealth management sector is the world's fourth-largest and has recently seen much M&A activity, with Australian wealth manager AMP and French insurer AXA SA launching a new $13.1 billion-plus bid for AXA Asia Pacific last month.
Private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co offered $1.7 billion for wealth manager Perpetual, although the deal fell through this month.
Tower Australia's principal activities include life insurance, funds management, superannuation, financial planning, and investment management.
Dai-ichi's shares rose 2.1 percent to 133,600 yen in Tokyo after the Nikkei business daily first reported the deal earlier on Tuesday.
Dai-ichi's stock has wallowed below its IPO price since its market debut. It went public by distributing shares to policy holders through a process called demutualization and did not raise any money from the IPO.
Tower Australia shares closed at A$2.73 on Friday. The Australian stock market reopens on Wednesday after an extended Christmas break.
(Additional reporting by Nivedita Bhattacharjee in BANGALORE; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)