China's Anbang to Explore Sale of Belgian Insurer Fidea

(Bloomberg) -- Anbang Insurance Group Co. is exploring a sale of Belgian insurer Fidea, people with knowledge of the matter said, in what would be the troubled Chinese insurer’s first European divestment since it was seized by the government.

Beijing-based Anbang has asked investment banks to pitch for a role in managing a potential sale of Fidea, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the information is private. It is considering starting a formal auction process as soon as the third quarter, the people said.

Fidea, formerly owned by J.C. Flowers & Co., was bought by Anbang in May 2015 for 369 million euros ($434 million), according to the annual report that year from the Chinese company’s life-insurance arm. Deliberations on a potential sale are at an early stage, and there’s no certainty they will lead to a transaction, the people said.

Anbang shot to fame after snapping up assets around the world, before the government seized it in February for at least a year amid President Xi Jinping’s campaign to curb risks in the financial system. The insurer’s former chairman, Wu Xiaohui, was sentenced in May to 18 years in prison after being convicted of fundraising fraud and embezzlement.

Any deal would add to the $13 billion in acquisitions of European insurance assets announced this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Athora Holding Ltd., the insurance business backed by Apollo Global Management LLC, agreed in April to buy Assicurazioni Generali SpA’s Belgian unit for about 540 million euros and has said it’s seeking to grow further.

Anbang’s other holdings in Europe include Dutch insurer Vivat and Belgian lender Nagelmackers. The Chinese firm had previously considered pursuing a sale of Vivat first, but decide to halt those preparations and focus on Fidea for now, one of the people said.

A spokesman for Anbang said the company is still in the process of appraising its overseas assets one by one, and it doesn’t have any specific plan or timetable for proceeding.

The China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission, which leads the government team overseeing Anbang, didn’t immediately respond to faxed queries. Fidea, based in the port city of Antwerp, didn’t immediately respond to an email sent to a general inquiry address outside regular business hours.

China has picked advisers to help oversee the planning for potential divestments by Anbang, people with knowledge of the matter said in May. Anbang said earlier this year it’s in the process of reviewing all of its overseas assets, after the government announced in February it would consider “all or partial sales” of the firm’s assets.

Regulators have taken steps in recent months to keep Anbang stable, injecting 60.8 billion yuan ($9.2 billion) of capital in April to bolster its solvency. The government has also said it’s seeking strategic investors for Anbang and aims to introduce private capital into the insurer as soon as possible.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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