Manulife 'looking at all options' for John Hancock, CEO says

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian insurer Manulife Financial Corp MFC.TOMFC.N is "looking at all options" for the future of its John Hancock U.S. unit, new Chief Executive Officer Roy Gori said in an interview on Thursday.

Manulife acquired John Hancock for C$15 billion ($12 billion) in 2004 in a deal that doubled the size of the insurer. There has been speculation in recent years that the business could be sold as it has made Asia its priority for growth.

“We will continue to look at all options but at the same time we wouldn’t do anything unless it created value for the shareholders,” Gori said.

Gori, who became CEO in October, said Manulife saw opportunities to improve the performance of the business.

He declined to comment on whether Manulife was actively working on a John Hancock sale or stock market listing.

“We would never say never to anything but we wouldn’t be speculating on any hypothesis like that,” he said.

An outright sale of John Hancock remained unlikely with Manulife more likely to look to sell off underperforming parts of the business, according to industry insiders.

“Optimizing our portfolio is critical, so looking at divestitures as part of that agenda is certainly something we’re constantly focused on and that’s just a continuous operating rhythm for the organization,” said Gori, who previously was general manager of Manulife’s Asia division.

Gori’s predecessor Don Guloien said in August that any decision on whether to sell off the business would be based upon whether it built value for shareholders.

Manulife reported third-quarter results that topped market expectations after the market closed on Wednesday.

Irwin Michael, portfolio manager at Toronto-based ABC Funds, which holds Manulife shares, said: “I thought it was a good quarter, with strength in Asia. The share price rise appeared to be mostly due to the respectable earnings and clean results.”

Shares in Manulife were up 2.7 percent in Toronto trading and 3 percent in New York.

Shares in rival Sun Life SLF.TO, which also reported better-than-expected results, added 1.3 percent.

($1 = 1.2694 Canadian dollars)

Reporting by Matt Scuffham; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jeffrey Benkoe