REFILE-DEALTALK-Asian insurance M&A gets pricey as region's promise beckons

Sun Apr 28, 2013 9:50pm EDT
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* Asia insurance M&A hits record $30.5 bln last year

* Asian insurers trade at nearly double price-book ratio vs U.S. peers

* Some buyers are walking away from auctions due to high valuations

* Longer bank distribution deals supporting rising valuations

By Denny Thomas and Clare Baldwin

HONG KONG, April 29 (Reuters) - A deal-making frenzy in Asia's insurance industry is turning up the heat on buyers to fork out huge sums or miss out on a prime chance to tap into the sector's fastest growing market, and few predict a slowdown despite the eye-popping prices.

The appeal of Asia's growing middle class and rising personal income pushed insurance takeovers in the region to a record $30.5 billion last year, according to S&P Capital IQ, a data compiler. At least $5 billion more are in the pipeline and that's good news for bankers, lawyers and shareholders such as Malaysia's AMMB Holdings Bhd, which is shedding its life insurance unit.

For buyers, soaring valuations and increased competition from foreign newcomers present a tough choice -- either pay through the nose for a scarce, fast-growing business or wait for prices to settle and potentially lose out to nimbler rivals.   Continued...