Hartford Said to Seek Bids for Unit From Travelers (Update2)
By Zachary R. Mider
April 23, 2009
April 23 (Bloomberg) -- Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. is seeking bids from rivals including Travelers Cos. for its flagship property insurance business, said people familiar with the matter, in a sign that damage from the financial crisis may lead to a wholesale breakup of the 199-year-old insurer.
Hartford, pummeled by credit downgrades after losses in its life division, solicited offers for the profitable property and casualty unit in recent weeks, said the people, who declined to be identified because the talks are private. Travelers and Ace Ltd. may show interest, the people said, and Allianz SE already has a $2.5 billion stake in Hartford. Citigroup Inc. estimates the unit is worth $4 billion to $8 billion.
Chief Executive Officer Ramani Ayer, 61, is weighing more drastic options after Munich-based Allianz's October cash infusion failed to stave off rating downgrades. The firm had a market capitalization of about $3.2 billion on the New York Stock Exchange today, implying a negative value for the money- losing life insurance and retirement operations.
Talks earlier this year to sell parts of the life operations to Canada's Sun Life Financial Inc. ended without a deal, the people said. Hartford, based in the Connecticut city of the same name, continues to seek other buyers for the parts of its life division that sell group benefits, the people said.
Shannon Lapierre, a Hartford spokeswoman, declined to comment, as did Shane Boyd of New York-based Travelers, Sabia Schwarzer of Allianz and Stephen Wasdick of Zurich-based Ace. Allianz's investment in Hartford is "purely financial," Schwarzer said.
Hartford climbed 15 cents to $9.83 at 4:15 p.m. in New York. The shares lost 85 percent in the past 12 months. Travelers rose 28 cents to $40.21.
Efforts to find buyers for the Hartford businesses may prove unnecessary if the U.S. Treasury provides enough support. Ayer has said his firm stands to get as much as $3.4 billion under the Troubled Asset Relief Program. The Treasury has used the program to shore up banks and has yet to extend it to insurers other than American International Group Inc.
Ayer, who ran the property division before assuming Hartford's top post in 1997, has been pressured by investors and analysts to consider a breakup. The property business had $6 billion of statutory surplus and $36.7 billion of assets as of Dec. 31. Joshua Shanker, a Citigroup analyst, said in February that a sale of the property unit would bolster capital.
A combination of the division with Travelers would create the second-largest U.S. property and casualty company behind State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., according to data from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. Travelers was 6th in 2008 by policies sold. Hartford was 10th.
Merging the businesses could portend job losses in Connecticut's capital city. Hartford Financial was formed there in 1810 and more than a third of its 31,000 employees are based in the state, the company said last year. Travelers began there in 1864 and has about 7,000 employees in the city, the Hartford Courant reported today.
Jay Fishman, the Travelers CEO, is a protege of Sanford "Sandy" Weill, the Wall Street dealmaker who combined Travelers with Citicorp in 1998 to create Citigroup Inc. before spinning off the Travelers property and casualty business as an independent company. Fishman left Citigroup in 2001 to run St. Paul Cos., where he engineered the $17.9 billion acquisition of Travelers in 2004.
Ace, founded in Bermuda in 1985, is run by Evan Greenberg, the son of former AIG CEO Maurice 'Hank' Greenberg. He bought the Combined Insurance business from Aon Corp. in 2008 for $2.4 billion, his biggest purchase as CEO.
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