March 21, 2014 / 1:39 PM / in 4 years

Canada pension board buys insurer Wilton Re for $1.8 billion

TORONTO (Reuters) - The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) has agreed to buy U.S. life insurance and reinsurance provider Wilton Re Holdings Ltd for $1.8 billion from a group of private equity firms, the first foray by the global dealmaker into the U.S. insurance business.

CPPIB said on Friday it would acquire Wilton Re, a leading purchaser of closed blocks of life insurance policies, from a group of private equity firms led by Stone Point Capital, Kelso & Co, Vestar Capital Partners and FFL. Closed blocks are insurance policies are still in force but no longer being sold.

The deal, which is the largest direct private equity deal that CPPIB has led, highlights a big push by Canadian pension funds and other major private equity investors to invest in companies directly and run them themselves to cut out buyout funds as middlemen and save money on fees.

CPPIB plans to use the asset as a platform for further U.S. expansion into closed-block life insurance, which is attractive for its predictable returns, CPPIB Senior Vice President of Private Investments André Bourbonnais said in an interview.

“It generates high cash yield. It also is not correlated to the capital markets, which is important in terms of diversification for the fund. And it has relatively low volatility compared to the market. So we like it as an asset class,” he said.

“We intend to provide more capital to the platform.”

Wilton Re has invested more than $1.7 billion in strategic in-force reinsurance and mergers and acquisitions since its inception in 2005.

CPPIB, which manages Canada’s national pension fund, has net assets of C$201.5 billion, making it one of the biggest pension funds in the world.

The fund has been active in buying up assets since the financial crisis, with a particular focus on infrastructure. But Bourbonnais said prices have risen as the global economy recovers.

“Clearly, I think that the market is high, both in terms of private equity and in terms of infrastructure. So (we must) find the very interesting companies where we think that there’s transactions to be made that are usually more complex (and) attract less bidders in an auction,” he said.

Debevoise & Plimpton LLP acted as CPPIB’s legal advisors on the deal.

Reporting by Allison Martell and Andrea Hopkins, additional reporting by Cameron French and Greg Roumeliotis; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Steve Orlofsky

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