Prudential to buy AIG's Asian branch for $35b

US insurance giant AIG has agreed to sell its Asian arm, AIA, to British insurer Prudential for around 35 billion dollars (26 billion euros, 23 billion pounds), a source close to the deal said.

American International Group (AIG), which received a huge taxpayer bailout to stave off collapse during the financial crisis, had been persuaded to let Prudential take over its Asian businesses, said the source late Sunday.

The deal will transform Prudential into the world’s top non-Chinese insurer by market capitalisation, ahead of major competitors Allianz and AXA.

It is understood the sale will be unveiled in the coming days, perhaps as early as Monday.

The purchase will be financed in cash, through a rights issue by Prudential, and through AIG taking a minority part of the British insurer, said the source.

Tidjane Thiam, who took up the job of Prudential chief executive in October, had never hidden his desire to expand the business in Asia.

The business chief, who has French nationality but was born in Ivory Coast, went to New York at the end of last week to persuade AIG’s board to sell American International Assurance (AIA) to his company.

Prudential stepped in as AIG was planning an initial public offering for its Asian arm in Hong Kong in April.

Estimates had valued the market flotation at around 10 billion dollars — which would have been the biggest of 2010 on global markets.

Prudential’s shareholders, for their part, had welcomed the company’s projects, said the source.

AIG was forced into giving up some of its assets after the company’s near collapse in the depths of the financial crisis led the US government to hand it a bailout which totalled around 180 billion dollars.

In 2008, the firm tried to sell up to 49 percent of AIA through an auction process but had to drop the idea after failing to receive suitable offers. The company then turned to the idea of an initial public offering.

The Wall Street Journal reported that some of the proceeds from the sale of AIA to Prudential were already earmarked for US government coffers.

The US giant reported Friday a worse-than-expected fourth quarter net loss of 8.9 billion dollars — still nearly 10 times less than in 2008, when AIG recorded 99.2 billion dollars in losses.

Prudential will be transformed by the deal to buy AIA, which will double its size. The company, founded in 1848, currently has a market capitalisation of about 23 billion dollars.

Sales in Asia already make up half of new contracts for Prudential across a number of countries including China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. The company also has a strong presence in Britain and the US.

The takeover also marks a success for Thiam — who was the first black chief executive of a company listed on London’s benchmark FTSE 100 index — after leaving rival Aviva to join Prudential in 2008.

AIG almost went under in September 2008, unable to meet its obligations for contracts written to insure mortgage securities and related assets without sufficient capital.

The Federal Reserve, fearing a shock to the global financial system in the event of an AIG default, provided a loan of 85 billion dollars to AIG in September 2008 in what would be the first portion of the gigantic bailout.

AIG generated fresh controversy at the start of February when it revealed plans to pay 100 million dollars in bonuses — a year after similar payments ignited a political firestorm.

“(President Barack Obama) is frustrated and angry that Wall Street continues to have the sense that excessive compensation should reward some of the excessive risk taking we’ve seen over… the last couple years on Wall Street,” said White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton.

Source: AFP

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