LIC's looming IPO weighs on India insurer shares, investors say

LIC (Life Insurance Corporation of India) logo is seen displayed in this illustration taken, February 15, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

MUMBAI, Feb 17 (Reuters) - Next month's mammoth stock market debut for India's Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) has battered shares in other insurers as investors trim their holdings to make room for the state-owned giant, fund managers and analysts said.

The flotation, potentially raising $8 billion, likely will continue to drag on LIC's competitors for about a year and could spread to other sectors, they said.

The government filed draft papers on Sunday with India's market regulator to sell 5% of the company's shares in what could be the world's third-biggest insurance IPO ever and one of this year's biggest Asian share sales, according to Refinitiv data. read more

"This is the biggest one and you have to make space for this," said a fund manager who asked not to be named. "Historically, market leaders are the first ones that list. This is a rare moment when a large player is being listed very late."

The 66-year-old company, dominating India's insurance industry with more than 280 million policies, is the fifth-biggest global insurer in terms of insurance premium collection in 2020, the latest year for which statistics are available. It had 39.56 trillion rupees ($527 billion) of assets under management as of September.

"For any fund manager, having a player that owns over 60% of the market share instead of individually owning those that have 10%-11% market share is a very natural aspiration," said Vidya Bala, co-founder of PrimeInvestor, a stocks and mutual funds research firm.

Fund managers have already started reducing their exposure to the three listed private life insurers, the fund manager and Bala said.

Shares in ICICI Pru (ICIR.NS) have dropped 10.4% this year, while HDFC Life is down 9.7% and SBI Life (SBIL.NS) 6.2%, compared with a marginal 0.2% decline in the blue-chip Nifty 50 index (.NSEI) for the period.

Performance of listed Indian life insurers vs Nifty 50 index

LIC's listing could dump the equivalent of nearly 60% of the three insurers' free-float capitalisation on the market, Macquarie said in a report this week, adding that the outlook for them remains challenging.

If LIC's valuation is attractive, the pressure could spread beyond insurers, weighing on consumer goods firms and some non-banking financial companies, two fund managers said.

"When IPOs of this big size come, they suck out the liquidity from the system," one of the fund managers said. "If there's room full of people at a party and a big guy comes in, you have to create space for him."

($1 = 75.0690 Indian rupees)

Reporting by Nupur Anand and Abhirup Roy; Editing by William Mallard

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