December 31, 2014 / 2:56 AM / 5 years ago

UPDATE 2-China's Fosun to buy US insurer to help finance acquisition spree

* Fosun to buy Meadowbrook Insurance for $433 mln

* Deal is first full purchase of U.S. insurer by Chinese firm

* Fosun eyeing banks, insurers to access long-term capital

* Group’s balance sheet stretched by $4bln spree (Recasts, adds context about Fosun, reason behind deal)

By Lawrence White and Avik Das

HONG KONG/BENGALURU Dec 31 (Reuters) - Chinese conglomerate Fosun International Ltd is making its first foray into the U.S. insurance market and buying property and casualty insurer Meadowbrook, a deal that it said would help it secure funds for further acquisitions.

The deal, the latest in a buying spree by Fosun that has seen it spend more than $4 billion in two years, would also be the first full purchase of a U.S. insurer by a Chinese company and comes as the Beijing government encourages local firms to extend their reach beyond emerging markets to Western financial firms.

Fosun, owned by billionaire businessman Guo Guangchang, said in an exchange filing it would buy Meadowbrook Insurance Group for about $433 million. The cash deal of $8.65 per share represents a 24 percent premium over Meadowbrook’s closing price on Dec. 29, the companies added.

“The Group regards the development of insurance business as a major approach to access long-term high-quality capital,” Fosun said in the filing. A China-based Fosun spokeswoman declined to comment further.

Shares of Meadowbrook, a specialty commercial insurance underwriter and insurance administration services company, were up 14 percent at $8.15 in extended trading.

Fosun’s Guo is seeking to broaden the conglomerate’s access to capital in order to fund a series of acquisitions he hopes will transform the group’s business model.

In the past two years, those deals have largely been funded with bank credit and leverage, but now Guo hopes to gain a more sustainable source of funds by buying into financial firms.

In May, Fosun bought Portuguese insurer Fidelidade for $1.29 billion, bolstering its assets and easing the pressure on its balance sheet.

Guo, who Forbes estimates has a net worth of about $4.3 billion, is also involved in a takeover bid for French holiday operator Club Mediterranee SA with Italian tycoon Andrea Bonom.

The group has also expressed interest in bidding for Portugal’s Novo Banco SA, the new bank created in the wake of the failure of Banco Espirito Santo SA, Chinese media said.

Fosun, which has a market capitalization of about $9.10 billion, is into insurance, industrial operations, investment and asset management.

The Meadowbrook deal, which has been approved by both companies’ boards, is expected to close in the second-half of 2015. Meadowbrook will maintain its headquarters in Southfield, Michigan and will operate under the Meadowbrook brand name. (Additional reporting by Adam Jourdan in SHANGHAI; Editing by Miral Fahmy)

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