* Strong interest received for Asia Insurance -CEO
* Asia/Pacific Insurance worth around EUR 5 bln
* There is no IPO market in Europe - ING CEO
* European insurance spin-off possible - CEO
* ING shares up 4.5 pct, outperform insurance index
AMSTERDAM, Jan 12 (Reuters) - Dutch bancassurer ING has scrapped its plan to list its combined European and Asian insurance and investment operations, opening the way for a 5 billion-euro ($6.4 billion) trade sale for the more attractive Asian part of the package.
ING blamed economic uncertainty for cancelling its combined initial public offering plan but a listing of the European insurance and investment operations was still possible, it said in a statement on Thursday.
Chief Executive Jan Hommen told reporters ING had received “strong interest” for the Asian operations but was currently not in talks. Its shares rose to a five-week high.
Potential buyers of the Asian business include U.S.-listed Prudential Financial and Canadian-listed Manulife , banking sources have told Reuters.
ING needs to spin off its insurance and investment management operations by the end of 2013 in return for European Commission approval for 10 billion euros of Dutch state aid received in 2008.
Ditching the plan for a combined European and Asian listing will make it easier to sell the Asian operations because the European unit is seen as less attractive as it is a mature, low-growth business in a continent falling into recession.
“That mature market business is a portfolio that is unattractive for divestment,” SNS Securities analyst Lemer Salah said about the European business.
Bankers said in August that ING might get a bigger pay-out if it chose to sell the Asian and European insurance operations to other insurers instead of listing them as one company.
ING shares rose 4.5 percent to 6.24 euros by 1445 GMT, outperforming the STOXX Europe Insurance index, which was up 1.5 percent.
Salah said it was positive that the Asian operations might now be sold in one or more trade sales.
“We believe that the net cash proceeds of an ING Insurance Asia/Pacific trade sale will be 3.9 billion euros. This is a price of 5.2 billion ($6.60 billion) but we assume that 1.3 billion of this will be used to redeem a part of the insurance debt,” Rabobank analyst Cor Kluis said in a note.
An Asian sale makes it more likely that ING spins off the other insurance businesses, which can raise ING’s fair value to 10.8 euros per share from 7.8 euros, Kluis said.
The enterprise value, including debt, for Asia/Pacific insurance was 4.9 billion euros at the end of June last year, an investor presentation on ING’s website shows.
Instead of listing its European insurance and investment management operations by selling shares, a scenario to spin off the business, where existing ING Group shareholders would receive new shares for the unit, was an option, ING CEO Hommen said.
Dutch mail and express group TNT split up its two units last year, giving shareholders shares in mail group PostNL and TNT Express.
Hommen said there was “no IPO market in Europe at this moment” but ING would continue preparations for a standalone future for its European insurance and investment business, including an initial public offering because markets could improve.
ING might also be able to keep its European insurance and investment management operations if it wins a dispute with the European Commission about how much state aid it has received, KBC Securities analyst Dirk Peeters said.
ING did not rule out renegotiating the restructuring process but was currently not in such talks with the commission, Hommen said.
ING’s so-called “base case” scenario to list its U.S. insurance and investment management operations remained unchanged, ING said.
ING has already paid back part of the state aid it received, and had previously said it would repay the remaining 3 billion euros plus a 50 percent premium by May 2012, but Hommen said in November the final settlement could be postponed because of market uncertainty and new capital requirements. ($1 = 0.7882 euros)($1 = 0.7814 euros)