TAIPEI/HONG KONG (Reuters) - American International Group AIG.N is to sell its Taiwan life insurance unit for $2.15 billion, marking the largest disposal since a U.S. government bailout saved the insurer from collapse last year.
The sale of Nan Shan Life on Tuesday was another step in AIG’s effort to repay U.S. taxpayers after the government injected about $80 billion into the company, but the insurer faces two more sales processes in Asia and others across the globe.
The sale is to two little-known buyers -- a start-up financial group run by a former Citigroup banker and an obscure, publicly traded Hong Kong holding company with a market value of $111 million.
“It (deal) has to be approved by Taiwan’s investment commission first,” said Lee Chi-Chu, vice chairperson of the Financial Supervisory Commission, adding the regulator has not received an application from AIG. “We have told AIG that we do not welcome investors backed by China fund,” she said.
Taiwan’s business ties with China have picked up since President Ma Ying-jeou took office last year.
Primus Financial, the firm founded by Citi's C.N former Asia investment banking head, together with China Strategic Holdings, are to buy Nan Shan Life, ending a five-month auction that involved private equity firms and local financial groups.
Nan Shan, a top three Taiwan insurer, has assets of $46.4 billion and employs 36,000 sales agents in Taiwan and has a market share of 10 percent with its 4 million customers.
Primus will own around 20 percent of the business and China Strategic 0235.HK 80 percent, according to the companies.
The agreement will likely bring a sigh of relief to the AIG camp as, at one point, it looked liked the process would not succeed.
Efforts to sell at least one other AIG asset, International Lease Finance Corp, slowed after Robert Benmosche took over as the insurer’s chief executive this summer, becoming the fourth person to hold that position since June of last year.
Benmosche is overseeing a broad restructuring as he tries to pay back the U.S. government, which has had to commit about $180 billion in taxpayer funds to pull AIG back from the brink amid the financial crisis.
The Nan Shan Life sale is the second major deal under Benmosche’s watch for an AIG business unit. In September, AIG agreed to sell a part of its asset management business to Hong Kong tycoon Richard Li’s Pacific Century Group for about $500 million.
Hong Kong-based life insurer AIA is seeking a more-than $2 billion initial public offering and sources said American Life Insurance Co, which generates half its revenue in Japan, could fetch $5 billion in an IPO. [ID:nN08285471]
Both companies have also attracted acquisition interest, though nothing has materialized yet.
So far AIG has announced deals to sell two dozen assets for more than $11.9 billion.
China Strategic, whose businesses include battery production and securities investments, had said it planned to raise about HK$7.8 billion ($1.0 billion) to fund a possible joint acquisition.
"The deal priced Nan Shan at about 1 time price to book, which is fair when you compare 1.9 times for Cathay Financial 2882.TW and Fubon Financial 2881.TW, and 1 time for smaller rival Shin Kong Financial 2888.TW," said Dexter Hsu, an analyst at JP Morgan in Taiwan.
An executive from Deutsche Bank, which is Primus’s financial advisor, told Reuters that Primus would be using bank loans to pay up to 35 percent of the $2.15 billion.
The remainder will be paid for using Primus’s and China Strategic’s equity, said the executive, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.
First Commercial Bank and Taiwan Cooperative Commercial Bank in Taiwan are arranging a T$20 billion ($588 million) loan for Primus to back its purchase of Nan Shan, according to Thomson Reuters LPC.
FCB and Taiwan Cooperative are expected to each prefund T$10 billion of the loan before Primus settles the Nan Shan deal.
Earlier this year, Primus co-chief executive Wing-fai Ng said in an interview with Reuters that Primus plans to use Nan Shan as a base to expand to Hong Kong, Malaysia and Japan. Morse and Ng will be co-CEOs of Primus Nan Shan.
Analysts and bankers involved in the deal said putting a valuation on the AIG’s Taiwan life insurance unit was difficult.
“The pricing is tricky. If you just look at the book value of Nan Shan, then the acquisition price is at a 30 percent discount,” said Pandora Lee, an analyst with UBS.
The agreement marks the end of an auction that spanned several months and involved multiple bidders, including private equity firms such as Carlyle Group. Primus had been competing in the end with Chinatrust Financial 2891.TW.
Blackstone Advisory Partners and Morgan Stanley MS.N were AIG's financial advisors, while Debevoise & Plimpton and Lee & Li served as legal advisors. Simpson Thacher represented the buyers.
Additional reporting by Rachel Lee, Chyen Yee Lee and Argin Chang in TAIPEI, Parvathy Ullatil in HONG KONG and Paritosh Bansal in NEW YORK; Editing by Valerie Lee and Dan Lalor
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.