Hong Kong tycoon Richard Li returns to insurance with $2.1 billion ING deal

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong businessman Richard Li, the younger son of Asia's richest man, is buying ING's ING.AS Hong Kong, Macau and Thailand insurance units for $2.14 billion in cash, bringing the Dutch financial services company a step closer to paying off its state bailout.

Office workers walk out of ING Tower in Hong Kong October 19, 2012. Hong Kong businessman Richard Li, younger son of Asia's richest man Li Ka-shing, is nearing a deal to buy ING's Hong Kong and Thailand business for over $2 billion, sources with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters on Thursday. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Li’s bid, through unlisted Pacific Century Group, marks his return to an industry he exited in 2007 and would help expand his business empire, which is now made up of telecoms, media and funds management.

He is paying 24.3 times estimated 2012 earnings for the three units. The transaction is subject to regulatory approvals and is expected to close in the first quarter of 2013, according to a statement from ING.

ING is divesting assets across the world to repay the 10 billion euro ($13.1 billion) state bailout it received during the 2008 financial crisis.

Last week, the company announced the sale of its Malaysian insurance business to AIA Group Ltd 1299.HK for $1.73 billion in cash, its first deal in a nine-month drive to sell off its Asian insurance and investment management assets.

AIA paid 14.3 times 2011 earnings for the Malaysian business.

With the latest deal, ING would be raising a total of $3.87 billion so far from its Asia exit plan, with the divestment of its much bigger Japan and South Korean operations still pending.

“It seems to be going well,” Cor Kluis, an analyst at Rabobank, said on Thursday when Reuters reported the news of Li’s purchase based on sources.

Kluis said he had expected the Hong Kong and Thai businesses to be sold for about 1.4 billion euros ($1.84 billion) and for the Asian insurance and investment assets to raise 6.1 billion euros in total.

Negotiations to sell ING's Japan and South Korean operations have been dragging on and it was not immediately clear when the sale of those two units would be announced. Li has also bid for parts of the Japan business, while the South Korea unit is expected to be sold to KB Financial Group 105560.KS.

ING launched the sale of its Asian insurance and asset management operations in March and had planned to find a single buyer for the insurance units, raising more than $7 billion.

With no single suitor emerging, the Dutch firm decided to break up the auction along different geographies.


Richard Li, 45, previously ran an insurance business in Hong Kong, which he sold to Dutch and Belgian financial services firm Fortis in 2007.

Li was a surprise bidder for ING's insurance operations, which had attracted interest from global insurers, including Metlife Inc MET.N and Manulife Financial Corp MFC.TO.

Li’s father, billionaire Li Ka-shing, in May named elder son Victor Li his formal successor but also pledged to continue to back the younger son’s ventures.

Li’s purchase of the assets would shake up the sector less than if they had gone to another insurer.

“Richard Li coming in and doing this doesn’t really change the market because there’s no consolidation. It’s just a new owner for the ING assets,” Barclays Asia insurance analyst Mark Kellock said before the official confirmation of the deal.

Li has two key lieutenants advising him on his insurance and financial services business - Martina Chung Kit Hung, a former AIA employee, and Alvin Chooi, an ex-Temasek Holdings TEM.UL insurance specialist - separate sources told Reuters.

The purchase would give Li access to ING’s 270,000 customers and 1,600 tied agents in Hong Kong and Macau, and its 300,000 customers and 4,000 tied agents in Thailand.

Li, who runs phone, pay-television and Internet company PCCW Ltd 0008.HK, also hired HSBC HSBA.L to advise on the deal.

ING hired Goldman Sachs GS.N and JP Morgan JPM.N to advise on the divestment.

($1 = 0.7621 euros)

Additional reporting by Sara Webb in Amsterdam; Editing by Helen Massy-Beresford and Muralikumar Anantharaman