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TORONTO (Reuters) - Singapore and Thailand are the two Asian countries that Sun Life Financial Inc would be most interested in expanding into, though its priority in the region is growing within existing markets, its chief executive said on Thursday.
Sun Life, Canada's No. 3 life insurer, already operates in mainland China and Hong Kong, India, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines
"Job one is to get much, much bigger within each of those seven markets. And if we do that we'll do extremely well," Chief Executive Dean Connor told Reuters.
"There are other markets that would be of interest to us at some point, Thailand, Singapore are the two largest ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries that we're not in today. Those would be of interest."
The chief executive said Sun Life is "heavily" involved in looking at acquisition opportunities in all of its main business lines, but that it is hard to find deals that make both strategic and financial sense.
"We're at that point in the cycle where there's a lot of capital chasing properties and driving up prices and driving down returns. So it is challenging," he said.
Sun Life reported stronger-than-expected third-quarter earnings per share on Wednesday and announced a new share buy-back plan that executives said they expect to be active.
Connor said a buy-back is something the insurer hopes to do each year.
"We're not a big fan of buy-back programs that try to time the market," he said. "We think it's a better use of capital for shareholders if we are out there on a kind of a regular, continual basis, and so that's what we're going to do."
Sun Life's minimum continuing capital and surplus requirements ratio, a closely watched measure of financial strength for insurers, slipped slightly to 218 percent in the third quarter from 222 percent in the second.
But Connor said the company still has the flexibility to deploy capital, especially given the C$1.7 billion ($1.5 billion) of cash at its holding company.
"We tend to think of retaining C$500 million of that as kind of a backstop, so think of C$1.2 billion of excess cash and capital," he said.
Editing by Peter Galloway