Anbang: Hotels bid follows rules
China’s Anbang Insurance Group may get around domestic policy barriers with its increased offer of $14 billion for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, topping the latest bid from its rival Marriott International.
A spokesman for Anbang said on Tuesday that the investment plan conforms with rules and regulations and the company has an ample overseas investment quota for this year.
Chinese financial magazine Caixin had reported that the China Insurance Regulatory Commission, the industry watchdog, may refuse to give approval for two Anbang deals. The report said the deals could violate a rule that restricts domestic insurance firms from investing more than 15 percent of their total assets abroad.
Caixin said Anbang has invested more than 171.6 billion yuan ($26.4 billion) overseas, including bids to acquire Starwood and Strategic Hotels & Resorts. But its total insurance assets for last year would probably be less than 1 trillion yuan.
However, experts said Anbang has an ample overseas investment quota and can benefit from policies that encourage overseas investment.
Hao Yansu, director of the School of Insurance at the Central University of Finance and Economics in Beijing, said that according to regulations, Anbang can invest no more than 15 percent of its total assets — not total insurance assets — overseas.
Its total assets have been estimated at more than 1.9 trillion yuan, according to its website. This means that Anbang’s overseas investment could be 285 billion yuan.
Gui Jieying, an analyst at Zero2IPO Group, said Anbang Insurance has invested abroad aggressively since 2014, when the State Council issued a guideline to boost the Chinese insurance industry. It encouraged domestic insurance companies to improve investment capabilities and “go abroad”.
“China is relaxing rules on insurance companies’ investment, and Anbang is a market leader,” Gui said.
The high-profile companies that Anbang has bought include the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, US life insurance provider Fidelity and Guaranty Life, Belgium’s Fidea Assurances and Delta Lloyd Bank, and Dutch insurance company VIVAT. Anbang has also taken a controlling stake in South Korea’s Tong Yang Life.
All this investment “can help Anbang to set up a global insurance business network and stabilize returns”, Gui said.
A report by real estate consultancy company JLL in October said that China’s outbound real estate investment had surged by 50 percent to $15.6 billion a year to date, fueled by insurers’ growing interest in boosting the allocation of their real estate assets.
Last week, Marriott increased its offer to $13.6 billion, topping an earlier one of $13.2 billion from Anbang. In a statement, Marriott said it was committed to completing its deal with Starwood but didn’t increase its current offer.
Contact the reporters at caixiao@ chinadaily.com.cn.