Plans for White Mountains Insurance Group to sell Sirius International Insurance Group for $2.2 billion to a Chinese investment firm drew negative or cautious reactions from Standard & Poor’s, A.M. Best and Fitch.
Standard & Poor’s revised its outlook on the Bermuda-based Sirius and its various divisions to negative from stable. (But S&P affirmed its ratings on Sirius and its operating divisions in the short term).
The reason for the negative outlook: Standard & Poor’s said its pessimism reflects uncertainties involving Sirius’ business and investment strategy and its capital management with its expected sale to Shanghai-based China Minsheng Investment Corp.
“We understand from Sirius and its purchaser China Minsheng Investment Corp. (CMI) that no material changes to the comapany’s strategy or management are planned,” S&P said. “However, we are concerned that over the next six to 24 months the new ownership could alter Sirius’ business or investment strategy or capital management policy in a way that could weaken its credit profile.
Of particular worry, S&P said, is the fact that CMI only launched in 2014, and that Sirius is the first international insurance operation in its investment portfolio.
“CMI’s lack of track record means we have little on which to base our expectations about how it will manage capital or investments at Sirius, or how it will manage Sirius’ position, or the adoption of a riskier investment strategy could undermine Sirius’ financial risk profile,” Standard & Poor’s wrote.
S&P added there is a “one-in-three chance” that it will consider a downgrade for Sirius over the next 24 months. It would revise the outlook back to stable, however, if CMI “demonstrates its willingness to maintain Sirius’ capital adequacy and allow the group autonomy in managing its business and maintaining its own underwriting and investment risk tolerances,” S&P said in its outlook statement.
A few days before S&P issued its negative outlook, A.M. Best placed the ratings of Sirius and its subsidiaries under review with negative implications. At risk: the financial strength rating of A and issuer credit ratings of “a” for Sirius International Insurance Corp. and its subsidiary, Sirius America Insurance Co. Also vulnerable: the ICR of “bbb” for Sirius International Group.
A.M. Best said the “under review status” stems from “uncertainties over CMI’s financial strength and its long-term plans for Sirius Group, particularly regarding future underwriting risk appetite and investment strategy.” The status will continue until A.M. Best completes its assessment of CMI and its intention for Sirius
Around the same time, Fitch placed Sirius’ issuer default rating of ‘BBB+’, senior debt rating of ‘BBB’ and its operating subsidies’ insurer financial strength rating of ‘A’ on rating watch evolving. (It also affirmed White Mountains’ IDR at ‘BBB+’.) Fitch said it expects the “rating watch evolving” status will be resolved before the sale is complete, after it gains a better understanding of CMI’s Sirius strategy “in terms of operating profile, profitability, growth expectations and capital management plans.”
Sources: S&P, Fitch, A.M. Best