Anbang Insurance Could Encounter Problems Selling Down Assets

August 1, 2017 by Paul Panckhurst

As Anbang Insurance Group Co. comes under pressure to reverse a $10 billion-plus global deal spree, a quick selldown of assets may not be so easy.

China is said to have asked the acquisitive insurer to sell its overseas assets, which include a formidable array of holdings spanning trophy hotels in the U.S. to financial firms in Europe and Asia. When it comes to holdings in financial firms — like insurers or banks — delays could include national regulators wanting to vet sales processes. Many of the firm’s assets are illiquid and can’t be unloaded quickly without losses, said Christopher Beddor, an associate at Eurasia Group.

A fire-sale might “spook the company’s policyholders or prove politically embarrassing to Chinese officials,” Beddor said.

Chinese authorities have asked Anbang to sell assets and bring the proceeds back home, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg News. Anbang hasn’t received such a request and “at present has no plans to sell its overseas assets,” the company said in an emailed statement.

The single biggest asset acquired by Anbang: Chicago-based firm Strategic Hotels & Resorts Inc., which Anbang acquired in a deal valued at about $6.5 billion. The group boasts hotels such as San Francisco’s Westin St. Francis and JW Marriott Essex House in New York, the Manhattan hotel near Central Park known for the red-lettered sign on its roof.

Also eye-catching: New York’s landmark Waldorf Astoria, bought for $1.95 billion, but now closed for renovations that will convert most of the property into luxury condominiums. High-profile sites in the U.S. also include the Fifth Avenue, Manhattan, site of Anbang’s U.S. headquarters, which the firm acquired from Blackstone Group LP.

The stakes in financial firms include Tongyang Life Insurance Co. in South Korea and a bank and an insurer in Belgium.

Some analysts already have ideas about potential contenders, including Blackstone, the world’s largest manager of alternative assets, which previously owned some of the U.S. holdings. Lukas Hartwich, at Green Street Advisors LLC, pointed to sovereign wealth funds and Blackstone as potential purchasers of leading hotels. He called the Waldorf Astoria “more of a turnaround play to return the hotel to its former glory.”

In the case of at least one business, in South Korea, a legal dispute may be an extra complication. In June, Yuanta Securities (Korea) disclosed that Anbang and the former owners of Tongyang Life Insurance were arguing in an international arbitration court in Hong Kong over money allegedly owed under a sales and purchase agreement. Facing a claim for 59.7 billion won ($53 million), Anbang responded with a counter-claim for 698 billion won, Yuanta, one of the parties to the case, said.

Large assets held by Anbang include: