Thursday, April 3, 2008

Groupama In Exclusive Talks To Buy Romania's Asiban

By Nicolas Parasie


PARIS -(Dow Jones)- French mutual insurer Groupama SA Thursday said it is in exclusive talks with the four shareholders of Romanian insurer Asiban, with a view to acquiring their respective stakes in the company.

If successful, the deal will help the Paris-based insurer continue to strengthen its footprint in fast-growing markets in Eastern and Central Europe. In February, it spent EUR617 million on acquiring the insurance arm of Hungary's largest bank, OTP Bank Nyrt. (OTP.BU) together with an 8% stake in the bank.

"This acquisition underlines Groupama's strategic ambition to develop its international activities by becoming a key player in Central Europe," the company said in a statement.

"Romania is a key part in this strategy," it added. In 2007 Groupama bought Romania's BT Asigurari for EUR90 million.

Asiban was founded in 1996 by four Romanian banks: Banca Comerciala Romana SA, BRD-Groupe Societe Generale SA (BRD.RO), Banca Transilvania SA (TLV.RO) and Casa de Economii si Consemnatiuni CEC SA.

Groupama said it agreed with the four shareholders on the terms and conditions to acquire 100% in Asiban. Groupama plans a further announcement once the deal is finalized, which is subject to the regulator's approvals.

With an 8% market share, Asiban is Romania's third-largest insurer in life and non-life products, Groupama said. In 2007, Asiban posted premium income of EUR185.8 million.

The insurance market in Central and Eastern Europe has attracted some of Europe's largest insurance groups such as Axa SA (AXA), Aegon NV (AEG) and ING Groep NV (ING) of the Netherlands.

Rothschild & Cie advised Asiban's four shareholders, while Groupama was advised by Raiffeisen Investment Romania SRL. The acquisition price, although still negotiated, would be roughly around EUR300 million, a person familiar with the situation said.

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