UPDATE 1-Metlife, Manulife said to bid for Malaysia AMMB life insurance unit

Thu May 9, 2013 12:45am EDT
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* Third insurance deal in Malaysia in past year

* Controlling stake in AmLife Insurance worth $350 mln

* Zurich, HK tycoon Richard Li, Japanese firms also bidding

By Denny Thomas and Saeed Azhar

HONG KONG/SINGAPORE, May 9 (Reuters) - Manulife Financial Corp and Metlife Inc are among companies that have made bids for a controlling stake in the life insurance unit of Malaysian lender, AMMB Holdings Bhd, the third insurance deal in the country over the past year.

Zurich Insurance Group, Hong Kong tycoon Richard Li's Pacific Century Group, ACE Ltd and two Japanese insurers have also submitted first-round bids to buy up to 70 percent in unlisted AmLife Insurance Bhd worth $350 million, people familiar with the deal told Reuters. Foreign ownership in Malaysian insurers is capped at 70 percent.

The deal highlights how some sellers are cashing out while the demand for insurance assets is strong. Malaysia is Asia-Pacific ex-Japan's ninth-biggest insurance market by premiums and a young and growing population makes its attractive to global and regional companies keen to get a foothold, analysts say.

The hot, regional insurance M&A market has been spurred by Southeast Asia's rising personal incomes and the industry's strong growth potential. Asia-Pacific insurance M&A set a record of $30.5 billion worth of deals last year, driven by the activity in places such as Malaysia and Thailand.

Officials with AMMB Holdings declined comment. All suitors mentioned in the story declined comment. The sources declined to be identified as the sale process is confidential.   Continued...