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Axa looks to offload its stake in Chinese Taikang Life arm

FRENCH insurer AXA has started the ball rolling on a Chinese asset sale that could raise as much as $1bn (&pound;604m).<br /><br />Axa will sell the 15.6 per cent Taikang Life Insurance Company stake it took on when it bought Swiss group Winterthur in 2006.<br /><br />The group has enlisted US investment bank Morgan Stanley to advise on the sale, according to sources, which is expected to garner interest from private equity houses.<br /><br />Taikang, the fourth-largest life insurer in China, launched in 1996, when the People&rsquo;s Bank of China gave its approval to Chen Dongsheng to launch an incorporated life insurer. <br /><br />Today the Beijing-based firm has 120 branches and distributes through 150,000 independent agents.<br /><br />After years of investments and partnerships in China, many foreign shareholders are now reconsidering their strategy as minority shareholders in Chinese firms often have little influence at top management levels.<br /><br />Several American and European banks sold their stakes in Chinese financial groups earlier this year, allowing them to raise cash and exit partnerships that gave them little control.