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BNP Paribas to become top investor in Belgian insurer Ageas

by Staff GBAF Publications Ltd
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BNP Paribas to become top investor in Belgian insurer Ageas

PARIS/HONG KONG (Reuters) -BNP Paribas, the euro zone’s biggest bank, has agreed to buy a 9% stake in the Belgian insurer Ageas from China’s Fosun Group for about 730 million euros ($780 million), a deal that will make BNPP Ageas’ biggest shareholder.

The deal ends months of speculation about the future of Fosun’s direct and indirect holdings in Ageas as the Chinese conglomerate speeds up asset sales to reduce its debt burden after an acquisition spree.

The acquisition, to be made via the insurance division BNP Paribas Cardif, also fits BNPP’s strategy of developing its insurance business. The French lender’s $16.3 billion sale of its U.S. retail activities has left it with funds for acquisitions.

Ageas and BNP Paribas are long-time partners via a joint shareholding in AG Insurance, Belgium’s leading insurer, in which Ageas owns 75% and BNP the remainder.

Ageas said it was “pleased to see that BNP Paribas recognises, through this investment, the value of its partnership for the long term and the potential of the company going forward”.

Last month, Ageas dropped plans to buy Direct Line after the British home and motor insurer turned down a revised 3.17 billion pound ($3.95 billion) takeover bid.

BNPP’s statement on the size of the stake and value of the deal differed slightly from a separate statement by Fosun. BNPP said it would acquire a first 4.8% tranche in coming days, with the rest of the 9% stake to be bought after receiving regulatory approvals.

Fosun International said in a filing to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange that it agreed on April 12 to sell shares equivalent to a 8.19% stake in Ageas for up to 670 million euros.

The sale will be done via three block trades with the last two trades completed within 10 business days after regulatory clearance is obtained or waived, according to the filing.

The Chinese company said it intended to use proceeds of the sale for general working capital.

“The disposal is part of the company’s effort of streamlining its portfolio and implementing core business-focused strategy. It also demonstrates the group’s continuous determination on improving its financial performance and creating maximum value for its shareholders,” Fosun said.

Fosun said it would still hold 1,952,524 shares in Ageas after the sale, equivalent to a stake of about 1%.

($1 = 0.9397 euros)

($1 = 0.8032 pounds)

(Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain, Benoit Van Overstraeten in Paris and Kane Wu in Hong Kong; Editing by David Goodman and Susan Fenton)