Swiss Re CFO: Some Reinsurance Deals in Time May Prove ‘Adventuresome’

By | September 15, 2015

Some takeovers in the reinsurance industry by investors from outside the sector may ultimately be viewed as “adventuresome,” the chief financial officer of reinsurer Swiss Re said.

The reinsurance business has seen a wave of merger deals and more are expected as reinsurance players try to bolster their financial muscle in the face of falling prices and other investors seek to diversify into reinsurance in search of higher returns.

Chinese conglomerate Fosun International Ltd. said last week it planned to raise up to HK$11.69 billion ($1.5 billion) to fund mergers and acquisitions in the banking and insurance industry.

EXOR, the investment vehicle of Italy’s Agnelli family, is paying $7 billion to take over Bermuda-based reinsurer PartnerRe. Most of PartnerRe’s earnings will be retained in the reinsurance business, EXOR Chief Executive John Elkann told journalists on Monday.

But price tags on reinsurance businesses are high, industry officials gathered at the annual meeting of the reinsurance industry in Monte Carlo said.

Swiss Re’s finance chief David Cole told Reuters the current merger plays did not change the market dynamics as far as Swiss Re was concerned but he said buying a reinsurer was easier than running one or expanding its business.

“It’s a responsible question to ask – not directed at any particular firm – do they really have the relevant experience?” he said.

“Some of these acquisitions may be referred to in time as adventuresome.”

Swiss Re itself is unlikely to play a big role as a buyer of property-casualty reinsurance businesses, but it is open to boosting its business in other areas through takeovers.

“While we may not directly participate in the consolidation, we do support our clients as they engage in consolidation, by helping them rebalance their portfolios,” Cole said.

Cole also said a decline in reinsurance prices appeared to be coming to a halt but it was too early to speak of a rebound.

Reinsurers, which help insurance companies to cope with big damage claims from hurricanes or earthquakes, have seen prices slide due to an oversupply of available capital and reduced demand from insurance company clients.

Credit rating agencies have predicted prices will continue to fall by a single digit percentage next year.

“I wouldn’t be comfortable calling an inflection point in the cycle but I do think pricing is stabilizing,” Cole said.

Swiss Re is also unperturbed about possible market volatility that could be unleashed by a rise in interest rates by the Federal Reserve.

“Our business is about absorbing volatility. If anything, volatility represents for us a buying opportunity, as a long-term investor,” Cole said.

(Editing by Jane Merriman)

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