Anbang huge ambitions for the world


Anbang Insurance Company made it to the headlines with New York's Astoria Hotel acquisition. It is in the race to bid for the 8th largest hotel chain, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Inc. Anbang's deep funding reserve helps fuel the proposed buyout for US$14billion. Anbang earned US$9.2billion from domestic and property insurance premium, way below the standard premium cash flow typically earned by industry heavyweights China Life or Ping An, according to CIRC (China Regulatory Commission for Insurance). Anbang also earned US$6billion by selling investor insurance. It has almost 80% of market share for investment products pushed to the retail segment that has almost 10% yield. Revenue is a small proportion of its assets totaling US$292 billion in 2014. Its cash pile is being used to fund its acquisition spree with the latest being Starwood. Anbang has not revealed it financing scheme for the takeover of Starwood with partner Primavera Capital, a private equity outfit and London company J.C. Flowers. Regulators may halt the deal on ground of investment restriction for insurance companies to invest more than 15% group assets for overseas investments.
china flag
Anbang forked out US$2billion for Waldorf Astoria, and bought Fidelity and Guaranty Life with US$1.59billion cash. In 2014, Anbang acquired Fidea, a Belgium based insurer with 220million euros and forked out 219million euros for Delta Lloyd Belgium. Blackstone sold its portfolio company stake in Strategic Hotels and Resorts to Anbang, which operates Four Seasons to Intercontinental hotel chains, for about US$6.5billion. The deals are subject to US and Chinese regulatory commission approvals. Anbang's total investment outlat for overseas purchases totaled US$27billion to-date. It has yet to compute the exact amount it could invest overseas. Non insurance company assets are supporting Anbang fianancially. The firm has major shareholding in local domestic banks and various property development outfits. Chengdu Bank was the first banking company acquired by Anbang. There are little insurance holdings. In 2014, property insurance and life insurance department has 329billion yuan in total compared to 1.9trillion assets held by Anbang.
Anbang is in competition with Marriott for the 1,222 hotel chains owned by Starwood, and that includes Sheraton as well as Westin brands. Merger between Marriott and Starwood will form the biggest hotel chain in the world. In March 2016, Anbang's offer of US$14billion is US$400million more than Marriott. Anbang joined in on the bidding when Starwood management was looking to dispose the chain into the hand of Marriott, weeks before shareholders voting. Starwood will pay Marriott a release fee if Anbang succeeds. Other Chinese entities are keen on Starwood, for instance China Investment Co., Jinjian International Corp and HNA Group. None made a firm offer. Cinda Securities analyst head commented Starwood has prime assets and solid financials. Hotel business has been providing good investment returns, around 5%. Anbang wants higher return on its cash pile. It is a good time for insurers in making investments.
Anbang had been incorporated in 2004 with registered capital of 500million yuan. Largest shareholder was SAIC Motor Co with 20% stake. Business registration files showed Anbang having 39 investors, all obscure and diverse. The addresses were similar for certain shareholders, and they have some form of connection to the Chairman who has good connection with central government. Sinopec bought 20% of Anbang and became a major shareholder in 2005. Anbang registered capital was increasedto 62billion yuan. Its equity is evenly distributed. There were changes in shareholding where SAIC reduced its stake to 1.2% while Sinopec reduced its stake to 0.5%.
Anbang was rearranging shareholding structure to comply with CIRC regulations. In the old rule, one investor cannot hold a stake exceeding 20% for insurance company. In the new rule effective 2014, one investor can hold up till 51%, subject to approval. Anbang focused on investor insurance sales for retail investors and has been a significant revenue source. It is a market leader with 80% market share. However the plans are short term (less than a year) and maturities are due. Investor expects repayment in full plus investment returns and yield. This poses a risk to Anbang, as China faces economic slowdown. Thus Anbang has been looking overseas for acquisition and growth, even it faces potential non-approval from CIRC. Anbang has shaken off the regulatory scrutiny with more than 1trillion assets in yuan, well sufficient for future foreign acquisitions.
up Top