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China's Anbang to sell overseas properties worth US$10b to pare debt

Hong Kong

CHINA'S Anbang Insurance Group Co Ltd is looking to offload overseas properties worth about US$10 billion to shore up its balance sheet as part of a government-backed rescue, three people with knowledge of the matter said.

The sales are likely to begin within a month, said the people, who declined to be identified as they were not authorised to speak with the media.

New York's Waldorf Astoria, bought in 2014 for US$1.95 billion, is not part of the sale, they said. The hotel is currently closed for renovation.

The sales come as the Chinese government pays increased attention to debt-laden firms with overseas investments.

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Some conglomerates, such as HNA Group and Dalian Wanda Group, have recently sold foreign real estate to pay down debt.

Anbang has been one of China's most acquisitive companies, signing over US$30 billion of deals in recent years. But in February, the government said it would take control of the insurer for at least a year, accusing management of illegal activity which it said put the firm at risk.

Former chairman Wu Xiaohui, who masterminded the overseas deal spree, was sentenced in May to 18 years imprisonment for fraud and embezzlement. He is appealing the conviction.

Bankers and analysts have since been expecting Anbang to undergo restructuring involving asset divestment before the government seeks investors for re-privatisation. However, neither the size nor timing of any sales was known until now.

Anbang told Reuters it was in the process of reviewing its overseas assets and that it would not comment on market speculation.

"The review is a complex and comprehensive exercise. We currently do not have a specific asset optimisation plan, nor a specific timetable," Anbang said in an emailed statement, in which it also said it had "sufficient cash flow".

China International Capital Corp and UBS Group have been appointed advisers for sales of investments at home and abroad, said the people. The pair are likely to tap other banks in search of buyers, they said.

Anbang's overseas portfolio includes properties of Strategic Hotels & Resorts - bought for US$6.5 billion in 2016 - such as the Four Seasons Washington and JW Marriott Essex House Hotel in New York.

The insurer also owns the Four Seasons Hotel Moscow as well as office buildings Bentall Centre in Vancouver and 70 York St in Toronto.

In addition to property, Anbang's overseas purchases include insurers in Belgium, the Netherlands and South Korea. REUTERS

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