February 17, 2015 / 1:00 AM / 4 years ago

Chinese insurer Anbang extends M&A drive with $1 billion South Korea buy

SEOUL/BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s Anbang Insurance Group is paying $1 billion to buy a controlling stake in South Korea’s Tong Yang Life Insurance, extending a global acquisitions drive that has already seen it spend $10 billion in under four months.

Anbang agreed to buy a combined 63 percent stake in South Korea’s eighth-largest life insurer from three separate shareholders for 1.13 trillion won ($998 million), or 16,700 won per share, Tong Yang said in a regulatory filing on Tuesday.

This follows once-obscure Anbang’s deal announced just a day earlier to buy an insurance arm of Dutch bank and insurer SNS Reaal for at least 1.4 billion euros ($1.6 billion).

The privately-held insurer and asset manager, which according to a media report is considering an initial public offering this year, recently sealed a $1.95 billion purchase of New York’s landmark Waldorf Astoria hotel. It also bought the Belgian banking operations of Dutch insurer Delta Lloyd NV, for 219 million euros.

The flurry of deals shows Anbang’s global ambitions and comes as China’s financial firms are increasingly targeting assets outside of home for growth.

“In 10 years, Anbang will have companies on all the world’s continents,” Anbang’s Chairman Wu Xiaohui said at a Harvard University event last month, his first high-profile U.S. public appearance.

Led by Wu, who is married to a granddaughter of the late Chinese patriarch Deng Xiaoping, the politically connected Anbang has also amassed shares in domestic property firms and banks, including China Minsheng Banking Corp, in which it owns 19.3 percent stake.

Anbang officials could not be immediately reached for comment. Anbang has previously declined to comment on its acquisitions or its shareholdings.

KOREA IN ITS SIGHTS, AGAIN

Anbang will buy the 57.5 percent Tong Yang stake held by South Korean private equity firm Vogo Investment, as well as stock owned by two minority shareholders.

An additional 33.9 billion won will be paid by Anbang to the sellers once the deal wins Seoul regulators’ approval, according to a person with direct knowledge of the deal. The person wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter with the media and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Both the seller and buyer expect to apply for regulatory approvals in China and South Korea by the end of February, hoping to close the deal by late May or June, the person said.

Tong Yang shares ended 3 percent higher at 11,850 won on Tuesday. The stock has risen 7.7 percent this month amid reports of a possible sale to Anbang.

This is not the Chinese insurer’s first attempt to buy a South Korean financial firm.

Anbang made a $2.7 billion bid in November for control of Woori Bank - one that failed after no competing bid emerged, as required by South Korean law.

($1 = 1,101.7000 won)

Editing by Kenneth Maxwell, Tony Munroe and Muralikumar Anantharaman

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