EPF ADMITS IT’S IN TALKS TO BUY STAKES IN OVERSEAS INSURERS

KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysia’s biggest pension fund is in talks with overseas insurers to possibly buy stakes in their local units as the central bank enforces foreign-ownership limits in the industry.

The enforcement of caps on overseas ownership of insurers provides a “great opportunity” for domestic funds and investors to enter the market, said Shahril Ridza Ridzuan, chief executive officer of the Employees Provident Fund. The fund hired BNP Paribas SA as an adviser.

“We are keeping our options open and talking to a number of parties in this space,” Shahril said on Tuesday, without disclosing the names of the companies.

“This has provided opportunity, not only for ourselves, but other Malaysian funds and investors to be able to talk to the current owners and see if there is scope for us to work together.

Prudential Plc, Singapore’s Great Eastern Holdings Ltd and Japan’s Tokio Marine Holdings Inc are among companies pursuing plans to reduce stakes in their Malaysian units, people with knowledge of the matter said in July.

Malaysia’s central bank has given foreign insurers until end of June to trim their holdings in local firms to 70 percent at most, one of the people said at the time.

Insurance is a sector that the EPF has always been interested in but the opportunity was limited previously because there was no imperative reason for existing equity holders to sell or seek new capital, Shahril said. EPF, which managed RM731bil (US$173bil) at the end of 2016, is among the biggest investors of equities and fixed income in Malaysia.

Kumpulan Wang Persaraan (Diperbadankan), Malaysia’s second biggest pension fund, is also considering investing in foreign-owned insurers based in the Southeast Asian nation and had asked banks for pitches, Chief Executive Officer Wan Kamaruzaman Wan Ahmad said in an August interview.

– ANN

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