August 6, 2015 / 6:54 PM / in 2 years

Sun Life eyes bigger stake in India insurance venture - CEO

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian insurer Sun Life Financial Inc SLF.TO is interested in raising its stake in its Birla Sun Life Insurance joint venture in India as it weighs several acquisition opportunities in Asia and North America, its top executive said on Thursday.

The logo of Sun Life Financial is seen in Toronto May 6, 2015. REUTERS/Fred Thornhill

Birla Sun Life is a joint venture with Indian conglomerate Aditya Birla Group and is one of India’s biggest insurance companies.

Sun Life has been on an acquisitive streak and has announced at least three deals so far this year, including one to purchase real estate investment manager Bentall Kennedy Group for C$560 million ($426.67 million).

“We continue to turn the soil over and look at a number of opportunities. We’re interested in more M&A activity if it makes sense,” Chief Executive Dean Connor said in an interview.

“We have quite a bit of capital and balance sheet flexibility.”

While this year’s deals have been in North America, some analysts speculate Asia might be Sun Life’s next target.

Asia contributed about 13 percent to Sun Life’s operating earnings in the second quarter, with net income from the region more than doubling.

India’s move earlier this year to increase the proportion of foreign investment allowed in insurance companies could create an opening for Sun Life to expand its presence. The insurer has interest in lifting its stake in Birla Sun Life to 49 percent, from 26 percent currently, Connor said.

“That would be of interest to us if we could find a purchase price that makes sense for both parties. It really comes down to price,” he said. “We like India, we think India has strong long-term prospects.”

Sun Life also owns 49 percent of Birla Sun Life Asset Management, the fourth largest mutual fund company in India, he said.

Connor said the Indian insurance business is starting to turn the corner after being under pressure in recent years due to regulatory changes.

He added that earnings from Asia this year are on track to beat the company’s target.

“The Asia piece is growing quickly. There will come a point, I think, where our Asian business could be larger than our Canadian business.”

The company is seeing strong momentum in the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Hong Kong, Connor said.

Sun Life shares were up 4.9 percent on Thursday after the company reported a quarterly profit late on Wednesday that topped market estimates.

($1=$1.31 Canadian)

Editing by Peter Galloway

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