ING To Shed Up to $10.6 Billion in Assets

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Dutch ING (ING.AS) plans to sell operations worth up to 8 billion euros ($10.6 billion) to reduce risk, focus its bank on Europe, and manage its banking and insurance separately, boosting its shares on Thursday.

ING (ING.N), which was loss-making in 2008 and received a 10 billion euro injection from the Dutch state last October, said in a statement it wants to shed non-core activities worth 6 billion to 8 billion euros, or 10 to 15 businesses.

ING, which also said its insurance business would in future focus on life insurance and retirement services globally, had previously targeted divestments of 2 billion to 3 billion euros, and had already sold a stake in ING Canada (IIC.TO).

Shares in ING rose as much as 13 percent and were up 8.2 percent at 5.69 euros by 0854 GMT (4:54 a.m. EDT), compared with a 1.3 percent rise of the European insurance index .SXIP.

The stock has more than doubled in value in the past month but is still down 77 percent over the past 12 months, against a 54 percent fall of the insurance index.

Analysts were pleased that ING gave clarity on its strategy, and had chosen to focus on its strengths.

“Short term this may hurt earnings per share a little but risks are reduced. ING can allocate capital to its most profitable activities, boosting profitability in the long run,” Theodoor Gilissen analyst Tom Muller said.

ING, the biggest Dutch bank and insurance group measured by balance sheet assets, joins banks such as Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS.L) and U.S. Citigroup (C.N) which are cutting operations after being hit by the credit crisis and getting state aid.

“It is making us focus on, first of all, making sure we get through the crisis but also to set ourselves up after the crisis. To have a position in markets where we can lead,” ING Chief Executive Jan Hommen told reporters.

SPLITTING OPERATIONS

ING will start managing its bank and insurance activities separately but Hommen declined to comment directly when asked if this could lead to a future split of the group, saying only “it is a way to make our organization easier and focused.”

ING, which ranked as the world’s twelfth-largest bank by market value last February, is organized along six business lines, with three focusing on retail banking, wholesale banking and ING Direct, and three on regional insurance groups.

ING will wind down its retail bank operations in the Ukraine, review life insurance activities in China and Japan, and divest U.S. insurance activities such as financial products, group reinsurance, and annuity books when possible.

When ING sold its ING Canada stake in February, analysts earmarked ING’s stake in Brazilian insurance group Sul America (SULA11.SA) as a possible divestment.

ING declined to say whether it was in talks with potential buyers for any assets to be divested.

Muller said ING would be able to sell operations because the group was not in situation of forced sales, giving it time to sell at a reasonable price, and he said rivals on property insurance would be the likely buyers, declining to name companies.

ING will continue ING Direct, its global online savings bank, and Hommen said its ING Direct operations in the United States and Germany, where it operates ING-DiBa, were part of its growth strategy.

ING will split up its real estate operations, making its property investment management activities part of a global investment management unit and Hommen said it may team up this unit with peers in the future.

“We see in the global investment management area the focus, the consolidation. By separating the business out, and making it a standalone for-profit organization we have a potential to play a role in that consolidation process,” Hommen said.

He said ING’s first-quarter results were “significantly better” than in the fourth quarter of 2008, when ING booked a loss of 3.7 billion euros, echoing similar comment by banks such as Deutsche Bank (DBKGn.DE), which has said it made a good start in 2009.

An ING spokesman declined comment when asked what made the first quarter better than the preceding one.

By Gilbert Kreijger
(Additional reporting by Aaron Gray-Block, Editing by Hans Peters and Andrew Macdonald)

($1=.7553 Euro)