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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

French insurer Axa in advance talks to buy XL Group

 XL has also attracted interest from insurers including Germany’s Allianz

Thomas Buberl, CEO of French insurer Axa: the company is said to be in advanced talks to buy XL Group which has a market value of $11bn. Pascal Rossignol / Reuters
Thomas Buberl, CEO of French insurer Axa: the company is said to be in advanced talks to buy XL Group which has a market value of $11bn. Pascal Rossignol / Reuters

Axa, Europe's second biggest insurer, is in advanced talks to buy XL Group, a property and casualty insurance firm with a market value of $11 billion, people familiar with the matter said.

A deal could be announced in coming days, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the matter isn’t public. XL has also attracted interest from insurers including Germany’s Allianz, the news service reported last month. A final deal hasn’t been reached and another bidder may yet emerge or talks may fall apart, the people said.

Representatives for XL Group and Axa didn’t respond to several requests for comment. A spokesman for Allianz declined to comment.

Buying XL, which sells insurance to other insurers, would bolster Axa’s casualty coverage business in the US, and mark the biggest insurance deal since 2015, according to Bloomberg data. Such firms have become ripe takeover targets as policy prices begin to increase after firms booked heavy losses last year due to a spate of natural disasters. Some $17.5bn in deals have been stitched together so far this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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The biggest of the takeovers so far has been American International Group’s January agreement to buy Validus Holdings for more than $5bn in cash.

XL shares have advanced 23 per cent this year in New York, giving the Hamilton, Bermuda-based company a market value of about $11bn. Axa has gained 1.3 per cent in Paris so far this year, valuing the company at 61 billion euros ($75bn).

XL’s chief executive Mike McGavick, who expanded the insurer in 2015 with the $3.9bn deal to buy Catlin Group, last month said he was optimistic about “where we are going” on the back of a solid capital position and growth in premiums.

Still, catastrophe losses might spur more consolidation for Bermuda reinsurers this year, while the US tax overhaul has diluted the pricing advantage the companies enjoyed with Bermuda’s low rate, according to a Fitch Ratings report.

Axa’s CEO Thomas Buberl, who took the post less than two years ago, has said one of his preferred areas for growth is P&C commercial lines segments. The company is shedding some assets as it plans to focus its expansion on fewer countries, with scale being an important factor as he seeks to simplify the business.

The Paris-based insurer plans to list a minority stake in its US businesses, including its Life & Savings unit and its 64 per cent stake in AllianceBernstein, in the first half of this year. Proceeds from the initial public offering will be used to fund acquisitions or returned to shareholders.

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