Dutch Government Plans to Float ASR, Former Fortis Insurance Unit

The Dutch government plans to float ASR Nederland, a former insurance arm of the Belgian financial group Fortis, next year rather than try to find a buyer for the business.

ASR, a life and property insurer, reported a book value of 3.37 billion euros ($3.6 billion) at the end of the first half of 2015.

The announcement comes a week after the privatization of bank ABN AMRO on Nov. 20 as the Dutch state seeks to unwind a series of emergency nationalizations undertaken during the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath.

The state had always maintained the nationalizations were a temporary measure and the financial companies would be returned to private hands as soon as they were ready and market conditions allowed.

Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said in a letter to parliament on Friday [Nov. 27] that the Netherlands Financial Investments (NLFI) agency had advised him ASR would not fetch any premium in a direct sale to a buyer and that an Initial Public Offering (IPO) would be a better choice.

“I intend therefore to ask ASR and NLFI to start preparations for that, so that a stock market introduction in the first half of 2016 is possible,” Dijsselbloem wrote.

Separately the NLFI issued a statement saying it has advised the government to sell a stake of 30 to 50 percent of ASR and that it had begun vetting investment banks to assist in the listing.

It said it would use experience it gained from the ABN listing and follow a similar procedure.

CEO Jos Baeten said in a reaction he agreed with the decision and the company is “ready to return to private hands.”

ASR was nationalized together with the distressed Dutch operations of Fortis and ABN AMRO in 2008, though ASR’s own solvency was not in doubt.

In August it reported a net profit of 397 million euros for the first half of 2015, compared with 71 million euros in the same period a year earlier, mostly due to gains on investments.

It reported its solvency ratio under Europe’s new Solvency II regime would be 185 percent, higher than that of peers Delta Lloyd and Aegon, but lower than NN Group.

After the listing of ABN and ASR, and the sale of former SNS REAAL insurance arm Vivat to Chinese investor Anbang, only SNS Bank would remain on the state’s sale list.

($1 = 0.9457 euros) (Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Susan Fenton and Keith Weir)