On March 1st, U.K. listed life insurer Prudential (PRU) announced an ambitious plan to acquire AIA, the Asian assets of troubled U.S. life insurer AIG for £23.5 billion ($35.5 billion). The deal dwarfs the company's market capitalisation of £13.6 billion ($20.4 billion). AIA is a significant player in the fast growing Asian insurance market, having a 19% share in China. The acquisition will make the combined company the no.1 player in China, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, South Korea, The Philipines and Thailand and over 85% of profits will come from the region (46% currently). To fund the acquisition, a £13.4 billion ($20 billion) rights issue was announced, the largest ever in the U.K.. Prudential will also issue $5bn of senior debt, while AIG will receive $5.5bn in new Pru shares plus $3bn of convertible shares and $2bn of preferred shares. The rights issue is fully underwritten and a number of Asian sovereign wealth funds are lined up to share a share. PRU's share's fell 20% on the day of the announcement and now trade at £5.38. Tidjane Thiam, the Pru's chief executive also said the deal will generate $340m in savings once the offices have been rationalised The company has also accelerated plans for a dual listing of the shares in Hong Kong in April.
In effect a reverse takeover of AIA, the deal is a high risk strategy for Prudential but given the maturity of the U.K. life insurance business, an acceleration of the company's presence in the fast growing Asian region seems strategically sound. The added bonus of cost cutting potential is also supportive. Though the deal is not cheap at 1.6 times embedded value (UK insurers trade at one times embedded value), the future growth potential of the Asian region is significant and way ahead of Europe. Though UK brokers were largely unimpressed and hedge funds were said to be shorting heavily on the announcement, Asian buyers drove Pru back from its lows last week. Existing institutional investors have been making negative noises about the priority that Thiam is placing on new Sovereign wealth investors and lack of information before the rights issue prospectus, but given the importance of the new Asian Investors this seems sensible. I have opened a position today at £5.36 given the potential of the Hong Kong listing and over negative reaction to the acquisition. It is frustrating to have missed the £5.00 low, but a move over £5.50 seems likely as the investor road show continues.