HSBC near sale of its insurance arm to rivals for £1bn

HSBC is about to complete a £1bn deal to sell its general insurance arm to rivals AXA and QBE, according to reports.

Under the deal French insurance giant AXA would take over HSBC’s business in Mexico and Asia, excluding Hong Kong. Australian firm QBE would then take over the Hang Seng operation in Hong Kong and operations in Argentina.

The double deal could be announced as early as next Thursday, according to Sky News.

An AXA spokesman declined to comment while HSBC’s Hong Kong operation, which is handling the sale, could not be contacted.

Reports earlier this month suggested that it was two-horse race between AXA and ACE for control of the global insurance division. The emergence of QBE suggests that HSBC has seen more value in splitting the unit along geographic lines.

Although HSBC recently declared its intention to focus on Asian operations, the decision to sell this arm of the business fits with the firm’s overall corporate strategy.

It is looking to concentrate on its commercial banking business in an attempt to increase shareholder returns and is open to offers for non-core operations.

Since last May it has disposed of assets worth over $4.9bn.

On Monday HSBC, which has escaped the worst of the Eurozone crisis, announced its year-end pre-tax profits had risen 15 per cent to $21.9bn (£13.84bn), ranking it as the most profitable Western bank.