Allianz SE Chief Executive Officer Oliver Baete has 3 billion euros ($3.2 billion) to spend on acquisitions and is scouting for targets from Australia to Italy. Rushing into a deal would be a mistake, according to some investors and analysts.
With two weeks remaining before a self-imposed deadline, Baete should take a “disciplined” approach to M&A and distribute the unused budget to shareholders, according to Tim Friebertshaeuser, a fund manager at DWS Investments. DWS is part of Deutsche Bank AG, Allianz’s second-largest shareholder, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
“Maybe it’s more efficient for them to use their current strength to grow their market share organically, instead of spending billions on acquisitions,” said Friebertshaeuser.
Acquisitions would help Baete to meet his earnings per share target even as ultra-low interest rates and increased regulation weigh on earnings. The 51-year-old, who has led Europe’s largest insurer since May 2015, explored a purchase of Australian insurer QBE Insurance Group Ltd. as well as parts of Assicurazioni Generali SpA, Italy’s biggest insurer, according to people familiar with the matter. Deliberations are at an early stage and no final decisions have been made, the people said.
“Allianz could be most interested in Generali’s French, German and eastern European units in property and casualty,” said Philipp Haessler, an analyst at Equinet Bank AG in Frankfurt. “Since Allianz has a large Italian operation already, they might not be that interested in adding to that.”
Baete is due to decide whether it will use the money on an acquisition or its first-ever buyback by Feb. 17. QBE, the Australian insurer, last week said it’s not in talks with any potential buyers after a report that the German firm had made an informal approach. Allianz agreed on Thursday to buy the 33.5 percent stake it didn’t already own in Allianz – Irish Life Holdings for 160 million euros.
The insurer also held informal discussions with Generali in December about potentially acquiring the company’s French unit, people familiar with the matter said at the time. Reports last week speculated that Allianz could buy units of Generali that Intesa Sanpaolo SpA wouldn’t want to keep if a possible offer for the insurer succeeds.
Turin-based Intesa reiterated on Friday that it’s weighing a potential takeover of Generali. Intesa described a possible bid as a “case study” that’s only one of many options the Italian bank is considering.
Allianz is interested in acquisitions in property and casualty insurance as well as in credit insurance and asset management, Baete said in an interview with Sueddeutsche Zeitung in January. The potential for synergies for insurers bidding for parts of Generali is far higher in its P&C operations, though most of its business is in mature markets, which Allianz does not appear focused on, Keefe, Bruyette & Woods said in a note on Wednesday.
Some analysts say talk of consolidation in an industry that hasn’t seen large-scale acquisitions in Europe for almost 20 years may be exaggerated. “All the talk about full-scale mergers of Allianz, Axa, Zurich and Generali is largely overstated,” said Thomas Seidl, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein in London. “All they want to spend is a few billions in dedicated areas.”
Allianz’s last major acquisition was 10 years ago when it bought the remaining shares of Assurances Generales de France. Baete signaled he’s open to a deal in November, saying he was willing to pay a large premium to achieve a leading position in some of their markets. A deal now would also help the CEO reach his target of raising annual earnings-per-share growth by 5 percent on average and reaching an adjusted return on equity of 13 percent by 2018.
Focusing on buying units rather than big acquisitions makes more sense for the firm, said Friebertshaeuser, who helps oversee about 715 billion euros at Frankfurt-based DWS. “For the stronger players, buying a large company as a whole would make less sense than buying the bits and pieces that fit best,” he said. “Unfortunately these don’t come to market very often.”
If Baete does find the right target, shareholders may be willing to give him more time, said Michael Haid, an insurance analyst at Commerzbank AG.
“Allianz could still use the money for a reasonable transaction,” Haid said. “They would even find investor acceptance to cancel the share buyback later, should it already have been launched.”