Assicurazioni Generali SpA is in early talks to buy the Central European assets of MetLife Inc. as the Italian insurer seeks to expand through acquisitions in high-growth markets, according to people with knowledge of the matter.
The business may be worth more than 2 billion euros ($2.24 billion) and is concentrated in Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania, the people said, asking not to be identified as the plans aren’t public. Talks are at a preliminary stage and the transaction may not happen, the people said.
A representative for MetLife declined to comment, while a Generali spokesman said that the insurer doesn’t comment on rumors and speculations.
Generali has said that it’s willing to consider acquisitions to enter new countries as one of the top-five players in that market and had signaled that it was interested in pursuing opportunities in central and eastern Europe. Expansion in the region is one of the pillars of Chief Executive Officer Philippe Donnet strategy, as mergers and acquisitions reshape the industry.
“External growth in central and eastern Europe makes perfect sense, as the CEE region is the jewel in Generali’s crown,” Gian Luca Ferrari, an analyst at Mediobanca SpA, wrote in a note Wednesday. “Generali has plenty of internal resources to finance a potential deal of this magnitude.”
MetLife Shares Up
MetLife shares rose as much as 6.1% and closed 1.3% higher at $48.13 in New York on Tuesday. Generali was little changed at 16.32 euros in Milan trading as of 11:20 a.m. Wednesday. The stock has gained 12% this year, giving Italy’s biggest insurer a market value of 25.6 billion euros.
The firm has said it has several billion euros to invest in deals and internal growth by 2021. This year it bought assets in Slovenia, insurance portfolios in Hungary and Slovakia and has signed a bancassurance agreement with UniCredit SpA to strengthen its position in central and Eastern Europe. Generali’s central and eastern Europe unit, which includes Austria and Russia, accounted for about 15% of the company’s operating income last year, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
A deal could be positive news for Generali, although it depends on the price paid, Banca Akros’ Enrico Esposti said in a note.
Poland accounts for one of MetLife’s largest operations in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region, according to a company filing. In 2012, MetLife agreed to buy life insurance businesses from Aviva in the Czech Republic and Hungary, as well as Aviva’s life insurance and pension businesses in Romania. MetLife also has a presence in Bulgaria and Slovakia.
(Updates with analyst comment in fourth, eighth paragraph.)
–With assistance from Dinesh Nair and Daniele Lepido.