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[Newsmaker] Anbang’s Allianz buy spurs Chinese deals

From hotels, movies, games and financial services to energy, manufacturing and information technology, there is not one sector across industries or markets that China is not involved in.

China’s growth may be losing momentum a bit, but that does not mean Chinese companies do not have the capital to remain acquisitive for businesses that can help them generate more value. And finance is one of many services where they want to get their hands on and boost global competitiveness through acquisitions as the world’s second largest economy undergoes structural changes.
The logo of Allianz AG in Germany (Bloomberg)
The logo of Allianz AG in Germany (Bloomberg)

Anbang Insurance’s agreed takeover of Germany’s Allianz’s Korean insurance and asset management operations represents China’s thirst for value-added businesses that can reshape its economic portfolio.

“We can expect more of these acquisitions especially in sectors such as content and services both here and abroad as China retools both of its manufacturing and services industries integrating with information technology, for a ‘smarter’ economy,” said Kim Man-gi, professor of Chinese studies at Sookmyung Women’s University.

“It is a fact that China’s growth has slowed, but we need to interpret this in another way -- it is now growing on a right track after years of 10 percent growth and oversupplies.”

Anbang’s Allianz Life Insurance and Allianz Global Investors Korea is its second acquisition following its takeover of Tongyang Life Insurance last year. Anbang, headed by chairman Wu Xiaohui, can be associated most with its recent attempt to up Marriott’s bid to acquire Starwood Hotels and Resorts, which operates Westin and Sheraton hotel brands.

Allianz and Tongyang, in the buyout portfolio, put Anbang on Korea’s insurance map, on the heels of top local players such as Samsung Life Insurance, Hanwha Life Insurance and Kyobo Life Insurance. The acquisitions of two insurers -- should the Chinese conglomerate merge the two companies -- will boost Anbang’s asset value of Korean insurance business to 40 trillion won ($34.7 billion).

“The acquisition is consistent with Anbang’s investment strategy which is focused on globalization, and we are committed to being a strong partner and long-term contributor to the growth of the financial industry in Korea,” Anbang Insurance Group said in a press statement.

Analysts and industry sources say there is nothing to fear over China increasing its presence in Korean finance, specifically insurance.

Lee Nam-suk, an analyst at KTB Investment & Securities, noted that Anbang seems more likely be interested in “diversifying its business and gaining management expertise” through the acquisition for its main operations in China rather than dominating the Korean insurance market.

However, China upping its ante in the local market does give a little both concern and relief at the same time. It is a concern because only Chinese companies with abundant capital can afford to buy something expensive or attractive, and relief because there is actually a buyer -- from China, if not from Korea -- who would be interested in an asset on sale.

“The issue is that the deals can inversely discriminate against local financial companies,” said an industry source, noting that local companies are required to either increase or have adequate capital base before investing in or acquiring assets.

Chinese bidders really don’t need to adhere to this rule simply because they already have sufficient capital, far exceeding that of locals. And with more local assets to be on sale soon including KDB Life Insurance, industry observers say more deals are likely to involve China going forward.

By Park Hyong-ki (hkp@heraldcorp.com)

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