Japan's Dai-ichi Life eyes Cambodia, U.S. in push for overseas growth

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's Dai-ichi Life Holdings Inc 8750.T plans to start a life insurance business in Cambodia in 2018 and expand its U.S. presence, its president said, in line with the firm's strategy to boost overseas growth as investment returns diminish at home.

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Life insurers in Japan have been hit by lower returns with massive stimulus measures, aimed at spurring inflation, driving down yields on Japanese government bonds. While several insurers have effectively stopped buying JGBs, Dai-ichi - the country’s No.2 private-sector insurer - has turned to foreign markets over the past few years to prop up its business.

Dai-ichi, which currently has 50 trillion yen ($449 billion) in assets, acquired a 40 percent stake in Indonesia’s PT Panin Life for about $248 million in 2013. It bought Protective Life Corp of the United States for $5.6 billion in 2015.

In the Mekong region, it runs life insurance businesses in Thailand and Vietnam. It opened a representative office in Cambodia in July last year and Myanmar last month.

“We see the Mekong region as the next emerging market, where we can utilize know-how acquired in Asia,” Seiji Inagaki, who became president of Dai-ichi this month, told Reuters.

Dai-ichi will start the life insurance business in Cambodia either on its own or through a joint venture, he added.

Inagaki said the company was also looking for acquisition opportunities in the United States - the world’s largest life insurance market - through Protective Life, targeting businesses and insurance contracts from rivals.

The insurer is not keenly looking for deals in Europe and other regions, including Turkey, he said, contrary to what some market sources were expecting.

“Our priority is the United States and the Mekong region. So the timing will be a little bit away” for Europe and other regions, Inagaki said.

Inagaki, 53, joined Dai-ichi in 1986. He was the head of the team managing the company’s initial public offering in 2010. Dai-ichi is the only listed company among the country’s four biggest life insurers.

Reporting by Taiga Uranaka; Editing by Himani Sarkar