UPDATE 2-Swiss Re says SoftBank stake won’t top 10 pct, talks at early stage

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FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Japan’s SoftBank (9984.T) is in talks to buy a stake in Swiss Re (SRENH.S) that is unlikely to exceed 10 percent, the reinsurer said on Wednesday, adding discussions were at an early stage.

The logo of the world’s second largest reinsurer Swiss Re is seen inside the company’s offices in Zurich, Switzerland, February 23, 2018. REUTERS/Moritz Hager

Bloomberg reported on March 29 that Softbank was looking to buy a 25 percent stake in Swiss Re, worth about $9.6 billion, as part of its drive to broaden its investments, which include its $93 billion Vision Fund for technology projects.

Swiss Re shares were down 2.3 percent at 0745 GMT (3.45 a.m. ET).

Chief Executive Christian Mumenthaler sounded enthusiastic about the prospect of a deal, citing SoftBank’s ties to China, focus on technology and access to 800 million customers.

“This is not uninteresting,” he said during a conference call with journalists.

Swiss Re also reiterated it was not considering issuing new shares for the possible investment by the Japanese company. The Swiss company’s finance chief told journalists that SoftBank would likely buy any shares on the open market.

The reinsurer said the investment was “currently expected not to exceed 10 percent” and the two companies were also exploring strategic cooperation.

Swiss Re, which is briefing investors on Wednesday, emphasized that talks were preliminary. “There is no certainty that any minority investment or strategic partnership will be agreed, or as to any terms, timing, or form of any such investment or partnership,” it said.

Analysts have said SoftBank could be attracted by Swiss Re’s research capabilities, undervalued stock, and cash generation.

Softbank declined to comment.

Swiss Re “appears well prepared for the ongoing technological changes by actively working on platforms and ventures,” Vontobel Research said in an investor note.

SoftBank plans to offer Swiss Re’s insurance products directly to users of other companies it has invested in, such as Uber and WeWork, the Wall Street Journal has reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son has said he wants to build a group of industry-leading companies that, powered by technological advancements in artificial intelligence and interconnected devices, will endure for 300 years.

Through its investment arm centered on the Vision Fund, the world’s largest private equity fund, SoftBank has already funneled $27.5 billion into tech firms around the world. That could bring a huge number of potential insurance customers – from ride-share drivers to dog walking app users – into what Son calls his “synergy group” of companies.

Additional reporting by Paul Arnold in Zurich and Sam Nussey in Tokyo; Editing by Michael Shields and Mark Potter

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