Five days after mysteriously dropping its $14 billion bid for Starwood Hotels, the Chinese insurer Anbang continued its long acquisitive streak, paying $215 million for a South Korean unit of German insurance giant Allianz SE (AZSEY)
The purchase of Allianz’s South Korean life insurer, reported by the Korea Economic Daily, raises more questions about why Anbang so quickly dropped its Starwood bid. It appears not to be for want of fewer deals.
Anbang’s expansionist desires are clear enough: in the past two years it has paid $2 billion for the St. Regis, $6.5 billion for Strategic Hotels, and $1.5 billion for Fidelity & Guaranty Life, to name only a few. Anbang wants to scale globally, possibly in part to shield its investments from a falling yuan and slowing economy in China.
The likeliest explanations so far for Anbang’s dropped Starwood have tilted towards China’s government, which although not a controlling shareholder, does have stakes in Anbang and likely wields considerable influence over the insurer, which works in a tightly regulated industry in China.
For now, although it appears insurance regulators ultimately shut down Anbang’s Starwood deal, it could have been anyone.
Anbang was limited to using no more than 15% of its total assets on a deal due to insurance regulations, said the Chinese business magazine Caixin, and regulators told Anbang’s Chairman Wu Xiaohui the Starwood deal would push the boundaries. An insider told the FT China’s regulators had “clipped the wings” of Wu.
The details may never be released but it’s probable the government didn’t want more attention drawn to Anbang. Like many other quasi-government owned companies, Anbang is a mix of priorities and ownership. It is controlled by 37 shareholders, according to a New York Times report, some owned by the government some not. Thus, the government can and does wield influence over even ostensibly “private” companies like Anbang.
If Anbang again lusts after a big global target, and succeeds, it’s clear now it will be thanks to the consent of China’s government minders.