* Highest bid at around $1.3 bln -sources
* At least five suitors have placed final bids -sources
* Insurance unit earned HK$325 mln profit in 2015
By Denny Thomas
HONG KONG, May 12 (Reuters) - Dah Sing Financial Holdings Ltd has received at least five bids for its life insurance unit, including offers from Canada’s Sun Life Insurance Inc and Chinese property developer Country Garden Holdings Co, people familiar with the matter said.
The highest bid in the final round for the insurance business of one of Hong Kong’s last remaining family-run banks was close to HK$10 billion ($1.3 billion), about 30 percent more than initially expected, they said, declining to be identified disclosing confidential information.
China Taiping Insurance Holdings Co Ltd, unlisted Qian Hai Life Insurance Co Ltd and Beijing-based investment firm J.D. Capital also put in bids, they added.
It was not immediately clear who submitted the top offer. One person said it was about 25 percent bigger than the next highest bid. A winner is likely to be announced next month, the people added.
The unit represents an attractive way for a traditional insurer to expand sales of its products using Dah Sing’s network of 70 branches in Hong Kong, Macau and on the mainland. Other suitors not currently in insurance are keen to diversify away from their slowing home market, the people said.
Insurance businesses in Hong Kong have generated strong interest. Last year J.D. Capital bought Ageas’ Hong Kong operations for about $1.4 billion..
Sun Life, Country Garden, Qian Hai and China Taiping Insurance declined to comment. A representative for J.D. Capital could not be reached for a comment.
Dah Sing said in an email that it was reviewing strategic alternatives for its life insurance business but that no decision had been made and no timetable had been set.
The sale had attracted over two dozen suitors but many traditional insurers dropped out, unable to match aggressive offers from other bidders, the people added.
Dah Sing’s insurance business has an embedded value of about $500 million, one of the people said. Embedded value is the net asset value of an insurer plus the present value of potential future profits from existing life and health insurance contracts.
Dah Sing’s insurance business reported a 29 percent rise in net profit in 2015 to HK$325 million.
Hong Kong has a developed life insurance market, with a life and health insurance premium to GDP ratio of 13.4 percent in 2015, the second-highest in Asia, according to Swiss Re. Premiums are forecast to grow 9.2 percent in 2016.
$1= 7.7593 Hong Kong dollars Reporting by Denny Thomas; Additional reporting by Tris Pan, Sumeet Chatterjee and Clare Jim; Editing by Edwina Gibbs