Baloise Shopping for Insurers at Home and Abroad in Europe

By and Jan Schwalbe | September 11, 2014

Martin Strobel, CEO of Baloise Holding AG, said the insurance company may consider buying firms in Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg.

“If more opportunities arise in our core markets we will examine these,” Strobel said in an interview at the company’s headquarters in Basel, Switzerland. Baloise is interested in insurance companies that deal predominantly in general insurance, he said.

Baloise, Switzerland’s third-biggest insurer, strengthened its presence in Belgium in 2011, buying Nateus SA and Nateus Life SA for €217 million ($281 million) and Eureko Group’s Avero Schadeverzekering Benelux NV for €75 million [$97 million]. The company purchased Vivium Assurance in Luxembourg last year, while it has sold units in Austria, Serbia and Croatia.

“We are interested in bolt-on transactions and we like to buy for a reasonable price,” Strobel said, adding Baloise “profited during the financial crisis with our acquisitions in Belgium and Luxembourg, where the sellers were forced to sell.”

The shares rose as much as 0.3, extending this year’s gains to 7.3 percent. That compares with a 4.8-percent rise of the 32- member Bloomberg Europe 500 Insurance Index.

The company would consider insurers with premium volume of between CHF200 million ($214 million) and CHF300 million [$320.6 million] francs as these are easier to integrate into the group, he said.

Baloise Bank SoBa AG, a regional bank acquired in 2000, is part of the company’s core strategy and is not for sale, Strobel said. The smaller lender sells savings products and mortgages for residential property.

Baloise doesn’t plan any acquisition in the banking industry to expand Bank SoBa, he said in the Sept. 8 interview.

The insurer expects full-year operating income to swell as much as CHF100 million [$106.8 million] from the sale of its stake in Nationale Suisse and its Helvetia Holding AG shares. The company also expects as much as CHF70 million [$74.8 million] in the second half from the sale of its Austrian unit to Helvetia.

The insurer is examining “all options” on how to deal with this year’s “special situation,” according to Strobel.

“We don’t hoard money, and what we don’t use for growth we give back to investors,” Strobel said, adding the company generally pays a dividend in line with what it earns.

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