China’s insurance regulator is planning to send inspectors to Anbang Insurance Group Co., a person with knowledge of the matter said, after the watchdog stepped up scrutiny of insurers’ investments in real estate and unlisted equities.
The China Insurance Regulatory Commission is assembling a team to examine Anbang, said the person, who asked not to be identified discussing private information. Caixin, which reported on the inspection earlier on Monday, said the CIRC is trying to get a better understanding of Anbang’s business.
Anbang has emerged as one of China’s most prominent overseas acquirers in the past two years, buying the iconic Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York and getting into a $14 billion bidding war for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. Such moves are drawing increased scrutiny at home as the CIRC last week said it will seek more disclosure from insurers buying property assets or investing in unlisted companies.
A press official at CIRC couldn’t immediately comment. An Anbang press official said the company hasn’t been notified of any inspection. It wasn’t clear which part of Anbang’s business inspectors would be focusing on.
Caixin reported on May 4 that the CIRC sent inspectors to Sino Life Insurance Co. after regulators received a letter about asset transfers by senior management. The company declined to comment at the time. The Anbang case is different, Caixin reported on Monday.
In announcing stricter supervision of insurers’ dealmaking last week, the regulator said property acquisitions have brought about liquidity and asset-liability mismatch risks.
Anbang agreed to buy Strategic Hotels & Resorts Inc. from Blackstone Group LP for about $6.5 billion in the largest U.S. real estate purchase by a buyer from mainland China, people familiar with the matter said earlier this year. In March, the company abruptly pulled out of bidding for Starwood, the U.S. hotel chain.
Anbang’s main life insurance unit gets the bulk of its premium income from short-term policies sold through bank branches that clients can typically redeem after as little as two years, according to its 2015 annual report. Chinese regulators in March told insurers to rein in their short-term life insurance sales, saying worsening investment returns could undermine their ability to repay maturing policies.