Ageas to sell Hong Kong unit to China’s JD Capital for $1.4 bln: Reuters

Ageas has agreed to sell its Hong Kong insurance unit to a China-based asset manager JD Capital for HK$10.7 billion ($1.4 billion), the Belgian insurer said in a statement on Sunday, exiting a business it acquired eight years ago.

The deal underscores Chinese companies strong appetite to grow through acquisitions even in the middle the country’s biggest stock market turmoil.

Beijing-based JD Capital is listed on the Chinese National Equities Exchange and Quotations and was established in 2007. It operates one of the largest private equity firms in China and has offices across North America and Asia. It has invested in more than 200 companies of which about 60 are either listed or in the process of going public, according to the company website.

“The decision to sell our business in Hong Kong follows a strategic review of our Asian activities in which we concluded that it is in the group’s best interest to realign our strategy towards the fast growing emerging markets of Asia,” Bart De Smet, CEO of Ageas said in a statement.

Ageas’ sale marks the second exit of a foreign insurer from Hong Kong in recent years, a market which is dominated by Asia-focused insurer AIA Group Lt and Prudential plc . In 2012, Dutch financial services firm ING sold its Hong Kong business to businessman Richard Li’s Pacific Century Insurance, which was renamed as FWD.

Hong Kong is a developed life insurance market, with insurance premium to GDP ratio of 11.7 percent, the second-highest in Asia, according to Sigma Re. That means for insurers with small market share, it is a real challenge to grow bigger.

Ageas is the former insurance unit of bailed out and broken up Belgian-Dutch group Fortis. It bought the insurance business in 2007 from Li’s Pacific Century Insurance for a total consideration of HK$6.94 billion.

The company has more than 2,500 agents in Hong Kong, which is the only Asian operation where the company had a 100 percent control.

Ageas said it remains committed to Asia and will further strengthen its business in the region by focusing on the six growth markets of Malaysia, China, Thailand, India, the Philippines and Vietnam.

The deal is expected to close in the first half of 2016. Morgan Stanley advised Ageas while Citigroup advised JD Capital, people familiar with the matter told Reuters.