Insurer Aviva Nearing Sale of U.S. Business

By Myles Neligan | November 8, 2012

Aviva, the UK’s second-biggest insurer, is closing in on the sale of its underperforming U.S. business, a key part its drive to strengthen its finances in an uncertain economic climate and revive its share price.

The disposal, expected “reasonably soon,” is set to fetch less than the £2.4 billion ($3.8 billion) at which the unit is valued on Aviva’s books, but should free up capital, the insurer said on Thursday.

Aviva is four months into a reorganization in which 16 lagging businesses that contribute 18 percent of operating profit – but tie up over a third of its capital – will be sold.

The revamp was launched in July by chairman John MacFarlane, who took day-to-day charge of Aviva in May after shareholders, irked by a 60 percent slide in the company’s share price over five years, forced out chief executive Andrew Moss.

Capital freed through disposals could be used to strengthen the insurer’s reserves against a potential further deterioration in the troubled euro zone.

Aviva holds distressed euro zone sovereign debt to generate income for customers in the region, and its exposure has been a worry for investors.

Aviva’s U.S. business, bought in 2006 for £2 billion [$3.18 billion], is the biggest asset in a for-sale list that also includes the group’s minority stake in Dutch insurer Delta Lloyd.

A further eight businesses will probably be sold next year, Aviva said, declining to name them.

Aviva shares were up 0.3 percent by 1105 GMT, just ahead of a 0.2 percent rise in the FTSE 100 share index.

The company’s shares have risen 10 percent since the start of the year, lagging a 25 percent increase in the STOXX 600 European insurance index.

“Aviva remains a work in progress, and we can understand the nervousness of potential investors, but at the same time we view the valuation as compelling,” Panmure Gordon analyst Barrie Cornes wrote in a research note.

The company is on track to appoint a replacement for Moss early next year, MacFarlane said, with non-executive directors interviewing candidates this week. Finance chief Pat Regan is seen as a likely potential successor.

Aviva, which sells home and motor insurance as well as life and savings polices across Europe, said total sales fell 5 percent to £28.9 billion ($46 billion) in the first nine months of the year, reflecting tough conditions in recession-hit Italy, Spain and Ireland.

Potential buyers of Aviva’s U.S. business include investment managers Guggenheim Partners, Apollo Global Management, and Harbinger Capital Partners, according to press reports.

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