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Malaysian pension giants are said to seek insurer deal talks

[KUALA LUMPUR] Malaysia's two biggest pension funds, which manage a combined US$203 billion, plan to pursue talks to buy stakes in foreign-owned insurers in the country as the government enforces caps on overseas ownership, people with knowledge of the matter said.

Employees Provident Fund and Kumpulan Wang Persaraan (Diperbadankan), known as KWAP, have requested central bank approval to start deal negotiations with potential targets, according to the people.

They are each considering acquiring a minority stake in one of the locally incorporated life insurance companies owned by overseas firms, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is private. 

Any deal would add to the US$11.2 billion of acquisitions in Malaysia this year, data compiled by Bloomberg show. EPF and KWAP may explore possible deals with several different parties before deciding which insurer to pursue detailed discussions with, according to the people. 

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Prudential Plc, Singapore's Great Eastern Holdings Ltd and Japan's Tokio Marine Holdings Inc are among companies pursuing plans to cut stakes in their Malaysian units, people with knowledge of the matter said in July. 

Malaysia's central bank has given foreign insurers until end of June 2018 to trim their holdings in local firms to 70 per cent at most, one of the people said at the time. 

Deliberations are at an early stage, and there's no certainty they will lead to any transaction, the people said. Representatives for EPF, KWAP and the Malaysian central bank didn't immediately respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment.

EPF, the state-owned pension fund, was managing RM731 billion (S$235.5 billion) of investments as of the end of last year. KWAP, the nation's second-biggest retirement scheme, had assets worth RM125 billion at that time.

KWAP Chief Executive Officer Wan Kamaruzaman Wan Ahmad said in an August interview that the fund was considering investing in foreign-owned insurers based in the Southeast Asian nation and had asked banks for pitches.

BLOOMBERG