Temasek Holdings Pte., Singapore's state-owned investment company, is in talks to buy a stake in the parent company of China Pacific Life, people familiar with the matter said. The negotiations, they said, might jeopardize a long-held plan by District-based Carlyle Group to acquire 25 percent of the state-run Shanghai insurer.
Overtures to China Pacific Insurance Group by Temasek Holdings highlight foreign investors' keen appetite for Chinese financial institutions. Temasek, which is weighing a deal with Bank of China, has already agreed to pay $1.4 billion for 5 percent of China Construction Bank, while Carlyle has pledged to spend $1 billion in China by the end of 2006.
Temasek and China Pacific Insurance Group declined to comment. Carlyle declined to comment on its activities in China.
Separately, Carlyle said it has raised a $410 million real estate fund that will focus on China, South Korea and Japan. The private-equity firm is a longtime real estate investor in the United States, but this is its first dedicated property fund for Asia.
It isn't clear how big a stake Temasek might take in the insurance holding company if the talks bear fruit, but any deal done with the parent could scuttle Carlyle's 21/2-year effort to invest about $400 million for one-quarter of China Pacific Life. Carlyle is interested in the high-growth unit, while the parent is considering instead the option of selling a stake in itself, a prospect that apparently interests Temasek.
One of China Pacific Insurance Group's most influential shareholders, Baosteel Group, has opposed Carlyle's offer on the grounds that selling off a stake in the subsidiary won't benefit the parent company's shareholders, people familiar with Baosteel's position said. The Shanghai steel company is likely to favor a deal by Temasek, as it would involve the Singapore investment company's buying into the holding company.
Temasek's talks with China Pacific Insurance Group come at a time when Carlyle seeks to raise about $1 billion for a second Asia buyout fund. Meanwhile, the U.S. private-equity shop has been unable to complete its planned buyout of Xuzhou Construction Machinery Group, or Xugong, in Jiangsu province. That proposed deal is valued at between $300 million and $400 million.
During its protracted talks about China Pacific Life, Carlyle has encountered hurdles, people familiar with the subject said. For one, life insurance in China has hit a growth spurt. The two largest players, China Life Insurance Co. and Ping An Insurance (Group), have launched public stock offerings overseas, and foreign insurers operating in the mainland have hurried to add branch offices and obtain licenses to sell group plans.
As a result, although China Pacific Insurance Group needs capital to improve its financial position, it apparently is reconsidering whether it wants to shed a portion of its life insurance subsidiary, these people said. The parent also runs a property-and-casualty insurance business.
Another option for China Pacific Insurance Group might be a public stock offering. The company has explored this possibility before, choosing instead to seek a capital infusion from a foreign investor.
Ivy Zhang contributed to this report.