Prudential re-examines Asian insurer buyout

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British insurer Prudential said Friday it was in talks with US rival AIG after reports it was seeking to reduce the price of its 35.5-billion-dollar offer for AIG's Asian arm AIA to win over investors.

The takeover would be the biggest-ever in the insurance sector, transforming Prudential into the world's top non-Chinese insurer by market capitalisation, ahead of major competitors Allianz and AXA.

"We note the recent press speculation regarding talks between Prudential plc and American International Group, Inc," the British group said in a statement.

"We confirm that discussions regarding the current status of the transaction have taken place between Prudential and AIG and are continuing.

"These discussions may or may not lead to a change in the terms of the combination of AIA Group Limited and Prudential," it added.

Trading of Prudential shares in Hong Kong was halted Friday following reports the British insurance giant was trying to chop the multi-billion dollar price for its takeover of AIA.

In a statement to the financial hub's exchange, Prudential asked that trading in its shares be halted pending "price sensitive information."

In London, Prudential shares were down 0.64 percent at 544 pence in early trade. London's benchmark FTSE 100 index was up 0.31 percent.

The deal for AIA was announced in March, being put together by Prudential's relatively new chief executive, Frenchman Tidjane Thiam, after the British insurer's share price almost trebled in one year.

The Financial Times, citing people familiar with the deal, said Prudential has asked investors opposed to the acquisition whether a reduced price tag would win them over in an effort to avoid a "No" vote on the takeover.

Prudential hopes to cut the cost to as low as 30 billion dollars (24 billion euros, 21 billion pounds), according to the FT.

The monster buyout of AIA has been criticised by some institutional investors who are warning they will try to block it, while Prudential needs 75-percent approval from its shareholders at a June 7 meeting to proceed.

Meanwhile, the AIG board and the United States government have not decided whether to accept a lower price or scrap the deal and go back to an initial plan of listing AIA in Hong Kong, the FT said.

"There is less than a 50-50 chance that the deal with Pru gets done," said a person familiar with the matter. "It is easy for us to go forward with an initial public offering when market conditions permit."

The US government is involved because of its bailout of AIG during the global financial crisis.

Prudential's chairman Harvey McGrath on Tuesday defended the planned takeover as the British company's shares started trading in Hong Kong and Singapore to help fund the mega-deal.

Prudential, which is keeping its primary listing in London, is hoping to woo Asian investors ahead of a planned 21-billion-dollar new share issue to raise the funds to buy AIA.

"Some shareholders may vote against it but I think the vast majority are comfortable with the transaction," McGrath had told reporters in Hong Kong.

"The listing simply reinforces how important Asia is to the Prudential ... I'm confident the combination of the businesses will be a great success."

The British group delayed by almost two weeks details of the record rights issue as regulators voiced concerns about the enlarged company's capital strength.

© 2010 AFP

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