Ping An eyes ?2b acquisition of Fortis unit

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 March, 2008, 12:00am

Ping An Insurance (Group) might acquire an investment unit of Fortis for about Euro2 billion (HK$24.02 billion), sources said.

Ping An is the mainland's second-biggest insurer while Fortis is Belgium's largest financial services company.

If the deal goes ahead, Ping An would buy into Fortis Investments, an asset management company with Euro133 billion under management.

'It's one of many ideas that the two parties have discussed,' said one source, adding that a deal was far from certain.

Ping An paid Euro1.81 billion for a 4.18 per cent stake in Fortis in November last year.

At the time the two parties said that they would seek ways to work together.

Fortis has more than Euro81 billion of assets under management at its Asia-Pacific private wealth management unit based in Hong Kong. It also formed the mainland's first private equity fund management company with Haitong Securities.

The insurer was seeking overseas expansion opportunities and hoped to buy more euro-denominated assets to capitalise on the currency's appreciation, said Ping An president Louis Cheung Chi-yan at a shareholders meeting last week.

The insurer became Fortis' single-largest shareholder after last year's deal, and Mr Cheung is now a member of the Fortis board.

A Ping An spokesman declined to comment yesterday.

'The investment may strengthen their asset management,' said CLSA analyst Dominic Chan. 'Instead of co-operating in certain business areas, an acquisition is a much quicker way to tap talent and expertise.'

On March 5, Ping An shareholders approved a controversial fund-raising plan first announced in January to raise about 120 billion yuan (HK$131.63 billion) in an issue of shares and convertible bonds.

Ping An chairman Ma Mingzhe said proceeds from the fund-raising would be used for acquisitions that were 'beneficial and compatible' with its insurance, banking and asset management activities.

Speculation has surrounded the Shenzhen-based insurer's moves offshore and has included British insurance giants such as Prudential, Britain's largest insurer by market value, and Aviva, the country's largest insurer by sales.

Ping An is also looking at a stake in HSBC Holdings, the largest bank in Europe and owner of a 16.8 per cent stake in Ping An.