Fortis says Ping An stake deal at fair price

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 April, 2008, 12:00am

Fortis, the Belgian-Dutch financial services group, said Ping An Insurance (Group)'s purchase of a 4.99 per cent stake in the company was at a fair price despite investor criticism of the timing of the deal.

Ping An, the mainland's second-largest insurer, has been under fire for its investments in Fortis, joining a number of mainland financial institutions that suffered from a paper loss after buying into United States and European firms.

In November, Ping An bought 4.99 per cent of Fortis for about HK$21 billion, becoming the single-largest shareholder.

The Shenzhen-based insurer booked a Euro278 million (HK$3.41 billion) paper loss on the deal this month as Fortis shares fell.

Fortis said both parties were happy with the valuation. Ping An had paid a price equivalent to 1.1 times Fortis' book value for the stake.

'We like Ping An in that it's very diversified into banking, asset management and insurance,' said Luc Henrard, the chief executive of Fortis Asia-Pacific.

'Without this partnership, Ping An wouldn't have access to our asset management business that managed Euro245 billion of clients' business, which is a huge opportunity.'

Ping An bought half of Fortis' asset management business for HK$26.34 billion last month to expand its non-life insurance business.

Mr Henrard said he hoped the partnership would help source new money from the mainland through the qualified domestic institutional investors scheme, which allows mainland investors to invest directly in overseas stocks.

The Shenzhen-based company aims to build insurance, banking and asset management into three equally important lines of business, with each contributing about 33 per cent to its bottom line in five to 10 years.

However, analysts expect Ping An's revenue derived from asset management to be slow in the next several years.

'It's hard to see significant growth from asset management given that QDII products are less appealing to investors under the current market volatility,' said an analyst with Fox-Pitt Kelton Asia.

Mr Henrard said Fortis was exploring acquisition opportunities on the mainland as it aimed to double profit from Asia by the end of next year. The group's Asia operation accounts for 5 per cent of earnings.

'Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore are important hubs as each has its own centre of excellence,' he said.