Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. agreed to sell its Japanese operation to Orix Corp. as Chief Executive Officer Liam McGee narrows the U.S. insurer’s focus.
Orix will pay about $895 million for the business, which sold retirement products in Japan until 2009, Hartford said today in a statement. The deal is expected to be completed in July, and the final purchase price is subject to adjustment for market fluctuations, Hartford said.
McGee is focusing on coverage for homes, cars and businesses, after divesting a life insurer and a retirement- plans unit. Hartford, based in the Connecticut city of the same name, has retreated from variable annuities in the U.S. and abroad.
Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. last year bought a Hartford unit that offered the retirement products in the U.K.
Completing a deal in Japan will “significantly accelerate the freeing up of capital for share repurchases” by Hartford, Brian Meredith, an analyst at UBS AG, wrote in a March 17 research note.
A sale will result in “an improvement in the company’s risk profile resulting from a reduction in HIG’s capital market sensitivity,” Meredith said, using Hartford’s ticker symbol.
The U.S. insurer estimated that the deal will increase available capital by about $1.4 billion, including net sale proceeds of $860 million and about $540 million tied to the termination of certain reinsurance agreements. Hartford Chief Financial Officer Christopher Swift said the company will provide an update on plans for the funds after the deal closes.
“This transaction materially reduces The Hartford’s risk profile by permanently eliminating the company’s Japan variable annuity risk,” McGee said in the statement. “We are pleased with the economics of the transaction.”
Hartford slipped 3.5 percent this year to $34.98 at the end of last week. Orix has declined 20 percent this year to 1,478 yen in Tokyo.
Hartford estimated that it will record a loss of $675 million on the transaction in the second quarter. The company is scheduled to report first-quarter results today after the close of New York trading.
Hartford had used hedges to guard against fluctuations in currencies and stocks on the Japan contracts. A decline in the yen relative to the dollar helped limit Hartford’s liabilities.
Orix, run by CEO Yoshihiko Miyauchi, is a finance and leasing firm based in Tokyo.
The company, started in 1964, has operations in more than 20 countries. It’s expanding businesses in Japan, where deflation and population decline limit demand for its services, which range from insurance to aircraft leasing.
“If they can collect some cash flows and recover the invested amount, that would justify this as being a decent investment,” Takehito Yamanaka, an analyst at Credit Suisse Group AG in Tokyo, said before the announcement. “Expectations tend to rise that Orix would buy back its shares unless they deploy their capital otherwise, so they will likely continue with mergers and acquisitions.”
Among Orix’s biggest takeovers was the purchase of the Robeco Groep NV asset-management unit from Rabobank Groep last year for about $2.6 billion.
Prudential Financial Inc. in 2012 agreed to pay $615 million for Hartford’s individual life insurance business, and Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. reached a deal for Hartford’s retirement-plans unit.
The transactions came after billionaire investor John Paulson pressed McGee to split up Hartford, a plan the CEO resisted. Paulson, who was once the insurer’s largest holder, had a common equity stake of about 1.3 percent as of Dec. 31. A year ago, his Paulson & Co. praised Hartford for performing “ahead of their own plan and our expectations.”
Hartford sold annuities in Japan from 2000 until 2009. The company said today that it had 375,000 contracts with a total account value of about $23 billion as of Dec. 31.
Deutsche Bank AG was Hartford’s financial adviser and Sidley Austin LLP provided legal advice.
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