Ping An Insurance (Group) Co, China's second-biggest life insurer, said yesterday it has been approved to invest up to 15 percent of its total assets abroad, the highest proportion allowed by the government.
The company will be able to buy Hong Kong stocks or invest in major equity deals, it said in a statement to the Shanghai Stock Exchange. The insurer had total assets of 441.8 billion yuan at the end of 2006, which means 66.25 billion yuan is available for overseas investment.
The approval follows Ping An's purchase of a 4.2 percent stake in Fortis, Belgium's biggest financial services company, for 1.81 billion euros last week. The Fortis stake is the company's first overseas acquisition.
"That shows Ping An's aggressive attitude and its capacity to grasp good investment opportunities overseas," said Wang Xiaogang, an analyst with Orient Securities.
The regulator last month allowed Ping An to begin buying Hong Kong stocks with up to 5 percent of its assets as at the end of the previous fiscal year.
"Despite the recent huge swings in the global stock market, overseas investment is still necessary to diversify risks, especially in the long run," Wang said.
China's benchmark CSI 300 Index more than doubled this year.
He said Ping An's purchase of a stake in Fortis is a good deal in terms of business structure and price.
Fortis is strong in banking, insurance and asset management - the sectors that Ping An wants to boost.
Sources said Ping An is also working closely with China Construction Bank to set up an asset management company.
Ping An's A shares closed at 116.83 yuan yesterday, up 2.92 percent on Monday's price. Its Hong Kong-traded stock gained 1.034 percent to HK$87.95.
Liu Lefei, chief investment officer with China Life, the country's largest life insurer, was not available for comment on its overseas investment strategy. But a source told China Daily the company has several big acquisition deals in the pipeline for the next six to 12 months.
"China Life is more focused on investment opportunities at home, especially those involving State-owned enterprises that are in the process of restructuring," the source said.
(China Daily December 5, 2007)