Wed, Sep 08, 2010 - Page 8 News List

Chinatrust and the long overdue Nan Shan deal

By Eugen Iladi

Last week, regulators spoiled the game for Primus Financial Holdings by rejecting its consortium’s US$2.2 billion bid for Nan Shan Life Insurance, the local life insurance subsidiary of American International Group (AIG).

That would usually be the end of the story. However, Primus has turned desperate and, according to market sources, is asking almost any financial institution it can find to help it get back in the hunt for Nan Shan.

Primus and its partner China Strategic Holdings have been battling uphill for nearly a year to win regulatory approval for its Nan Shan bid.

However, the Ministry of Economic Affairs’ Investment Commission turned down the application because the Financial Supervisory Commission found plenty of reason to doubt that the Hong Kong consortium had the financial wherewithal to run Nan Shan over the long haul.

QUESTIONS REMAIN

Also, China Strategic, the main financial backer of the consortium, denied being funded from China. However, the accusations were never conclusively disproven.

Primus now seems caught in a downward spiral, publicly scolding the government for the rejection, but also, quietly, trying to find a substitute partner — a partner that cannot be linked to Chinese funds.

Taipei market insiders and media sources say that Primus wants to drop China Strategic and is frantically fishing for a Taiwanese conglomerate or other financial institution. In a move that seems designed to appease the financial commission and attract a new financial backer, Primus is reportedly prepared to offer a 10 percent stake to Nan Shan staff and 45 percent to a new financial partner.

Primus is clearly talking to AIG about such an arrangement. Market sources say that Yuanta Financial Holdings, a securities financial group, has already been approached by Primus. Fubon Financial Holding may be another potential partner because the financial and insurance company has publicly expressed an interest in Nan Shan.

However, Fubon just bought ING’s local insurance subsidiary and the result would be major layoffs, which would again stand to run afoul of the financial commission.

LAST BEST HOPE

Luckily, AIG has at least one attractive alternative. Chinatrust Financial Holding, Taiwan’s third-largest financial institution, made a superior offer of US$2.4 billion to Nan Shan a year ago and has said it wants to renew it, according to Reuters. The Primus/China Strategic bid was only for US$2.2 billion.

The Chinatrust option seems like a no-brainer. Not only is the well-regarded bank willing to pay more, it also knows financial services in Taiwan, something the rejected consortium did not.

SAVING JOBS

AIG is largely owned by the US government and is eager to give back some of the billions the US poured into saving AIG from collapse during the financial meltdown. Taking the better offer would not only return that taxpayer money, it also would also ensure that the Taiwanese insurer continues its operations and creates employment in Taiwan.

Indeed, AIG was threatening to lay off 60 percent of Nan Shan’s workforce unless its deal with Primus was approved.

Chinatrust, which has the local expertise and funds to run a successful operation, is due for serious consideration by AIG. Primus’ time has passed. It’s also long past time to put this year-long saga to rest by closing a deal.

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