Thai Life explores $500 mn stake sale amid M&

Thai life

Thai Life Insurance Co Ltd may sell a stake of at least 20 percent, sources familiar with the matter said, in a deal that could value the country's No. 2 life insurer at about $2.5 billion and mark the third auction in the domestic sector within a year amid a huge wave of Thai M&A.

Highlighting fast-growing interest in one of Asia's most underdeveloped insurance markets, the potential sale comes on the heels of Prudential Plc's $590 million acquisition of Thanachart Life Assurance in November and Hong Kong tycoon Richard Li's purchase of ING's Hong Kong and Thailand units for $2.1 billion in October.

Announced Thai M&A deals have soared to a record $18.7 billion so far this year on mostly outbound acquisitions, overtaking the total value of deals in 2010 and 2011 combined, according to Thomson Reuters data. In contrast, Asia-Pacific ex-Japan deals are down 12 percent from last year to $298 billion.

Most of the deals are driven by cashed-up companies eager to expand overseas and include an audacious $7.2 billion bid by Thai tycoon Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi for the shares he does not own in Singaporean conglomerate Fraser and Neave. For the inbound offers, suitors see steady growth and rising demand for products such as consumer goods and financial services, not to mention valuations that are only getting richer.

The Thai Life stake sale is expected to draw interest from Japanese suitors and other financial institutions, said the sources, who have direct knowledge of the matter and declined to be identified as the matter is not public. Like any auction, there is no guarantee the process will end in a sale. The company, controlled by the Chaiyawan business family, is likely to issue new shares as part of the deal, while the founders are also expected to sell part of their stake, the sources said. A minority holding may be less attractive to somesuitors, although Japanese insurers in the past have shown a willingness to buy non-controlling stakes. Thai Life's Duangduen Kongkasawad, executive vice president for communications, told Reuters that the company has no plan to sell a stake to a strategic partner. But reportedly the company is expected to launch the sale in the first quarter of next year and is working with Barclays Plc as an adviser.

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