Britain's Prudential to exit U.S. business, focus on Asia, Africa

LONDON (Reuters) - British life insurer Prudential PRU.L said on Tuesday it planned to spin off its U.S. business Jackson to focus on Africa and its largest market Asia, responding to investor pressure for a split.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of British life insurer Prudential is seen on their building in London, Britain March 17, 2019. REUTERS/Simon Dawson

Prudential’s shares hit eight-week highs as investors cheered news the company would follow in the footsteps of peers Standard Life and Old Mutual, which have both divided up their operations in recent years.

“This new Prudential model will be a growth-oriented business,” Prudential CEO Mike Wells, a former boss of Jackson, told a media call. “Jackson is ready to be a standalone.”

U.S. hedge fund Third Point took a 5% stake in Prudential in February and called on management to split the company in two.

A minority initial public offering of Jackson is planned for the first half of 2021, with “full divestment over time”, Prudential, which spun off its European unit M&G last year, said.

It had already sold an equity stake in the U.S. unit to Apollo Global-backed Athene Holding for $500 million (382 million pounds) in June.

Athene now owns 11% of Jackson and has reinsured $28 billion of its annuity portfolio. Wells said the investor was a “potential partner” for Jackson for further reinsurance transactions.

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Prudential, which started life in London in 1848, will maintain its head office in the city, of which Third Point had been critical, but said it would cut costs. Wells did not say if there would be job losses.

Prudential’s shares rose more than 4% before easing to 12.71 pounds per share by 1106 GMT, up 3.2%.

Operating profit fell 3% in the first half to $2.5 billion, hurt by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, but was above a company-compiled consensus forecast of $2.4 billion.

Operating profit in Asia was up 14%, but down 19% at Jackson.

Analysts at Jefferies said the Jackson disposal would reduce the risk premium currently applied to Prudential, reiterating their hold rating.

Prudential said under a new dividend policy aligned to growth in the Asia and Africa businesses, it would make an interim payment of 5.37 cents per share, one-third of its expected full-year 2020 dividend of 16.1 cents.

Shore Capital said the expected full-year dividend represented a 55% cut from 2019 on a pro-forma basis.

Editing by Sinead Cruise, Kirsten Donovan