Tycoon Richard Li's FWD in talks to buy MetLife Hong Kong

MetLife's Asia business saw adjusted earnings increase 9 per cent in the first quarter thanks to growth in South Korea and China.
MetLife's Asia business saw adjusted earnings increase 9 per cent in the first quarter thanks to growth in South Korea and China.PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - FWD Group is in advanced talks to buy MetLife Inc's Hong Kong insurance unit in what would be the latest in a string of acquisitions by the insurer backed by billionaire Richard Li, people familiar with the matter said.

The companies could reach an agreement in the next few weeks, the people said, asking not to be identified because the discussions are private. A deal could value MetLife Hong Kong at less than US$400 million and would help FWD boost its presence in the former British colony, the people said.

At that price, MetLife would sell the asset for less than its US$400 million embedded value, a measure of the value of its insurance contracts, when Bloomberg News first reported on the potential sale last year. China has been working to curb demand for Hong Kong insurance products, which are popular with mainland Chinese customers who see them as offshore investments which can help to safeguard their assets and hedge against yuan volatility.

Still, some buyers have been willing to do deals betting on further growth in the industry. An arm of Hong Kong property tycoon Henry Cheng's New World Development agreed to acquire FTLife Insurance for HK$21.5 billion (S$3.72 billion) in December.

In 2017, Hong Kong-based investment fund Jeneration Holdings agreed to buy Axa SA's local wealth management unit.

Talks over MetLife Hong Kong are ongoing and could still fall apart, the people said. Representatives for FWD and New York-based MetLife declined to comment.

MetLife's Asia business saw adjusted earnings increase 9 per cent in the first quarter thanks to growth in South Korea and China. The company said in May it also recorded strong momentum during the period in Japan, where it's focused on accident and health coverage as well as foreign-exchange products. The company also has operations in Australia, Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Nepal and Vietnam.

FWD has been buying insurance assets across Asia, agreeing in October to acquire control of Commonwealth Bank of Australia's Indonesian life insurance arm.

In 2017, it purchased American International Group Inc.'s Japanese life unit, after earlier doing deals in Singapore and Vietnam.

Earlier this year, FWD reached a preliminary pact with Siam Commercial Bank Pcl on a potential life-insurance partnership. Siam Commercial, Thailand's biggest listed lender by assets, had unsuccessfully explored a sale of its life insurance business back in 2017.