Markets are overreacting to the threat of the rapidly spreading coronavirus and the global economy will only see a short-term impact, said the head of Allianz SE, Europe’s biggest insurer.
Chief Executive Officer Oliver Bäte said the firm was more concerned about the safety of its clients than any impact to its business, in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s Anna Edwards in London. He compared the virus with a “strong flu,” saying it hadn’t yet become a pandemic.
“There’s a lot of panic at that moment that’s not warranted,” said Bäte. “Short-term economic activity will contract and it will have an impact on global GDP, but it’s not like the world will end tomorrow.”
Heightened fears surrounding coronavirus have roiled financial markets, with Asian stocks falling Wednesday after a rout on Wall Street. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Americans to prepare for a potential outbreak at home, while mounting cases across the Middle East, Europe and Asia sparked concern the outbreak is widening into a pandemic.
Allianz’s biggest potential risk would be from any bankruptcies in Europe spurred by the virus’s spread, due to its credit insurance coverage in the region, said Bäte. While that business isn’t large in Asia, the firm has been cutting such exposure in China for the past two months, he said.
“The issue that may affect us is if you have massive bankruptcies in small and medium size companies, because we have the world market leader in credit insurance,” Bäte said in a separate interview.
Bäte has relied on cost cuts, inflows at Allianz’s asset management unit and smaller deals to lift profits as low interest rates and squeezed fees weigh on the industry. That’s recently been paying off, with the insurer managing to stop four straight quarters of bleeding assets at key investment arm Allianz Global Investors in the final three months of 2019.
Allianz recently bought two businesses in the U.K. — the general insurance business of Legal & General Group Plc and the 51% of LV General Insurance Group that it didn’t already own. Bäte said that the firm doesn’t need to carry out any major acquisitions thanks to the health of its earnings.
“There is consolidation and there will be consolidation coming particularly with weaker participants,” Bäte said. “Whether we will play a role, will depend on where the prices are and whether we can create value out of it. We have no urge to merge or to do anything.”
(Updates with quotes from interview in 5th paragraph)
–With assistance from Anna Edwards.