• Bloomberg


Sumitomo Life Insurance Co. agreed to buy Symetra Financial Corp. for about $3.8 billion (¥473.5 billion) as the Japanese company seeks to expand in the U.S.

Symetra investors will receive $32 a share in cash plus a special dividend of 50 cents a share, Bellevue, Washington-based Symetra said Tuesday in a statement.

Symetra closed at $24.47 in New York on Aug. 6, the day before Reuters reported that it was exploring a potential sale. The higher price benefits Symetra investors including Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Insurers in Japan have been looking to the U.S. as growth slows at home. Tokio Marine Holdings Inc. agreed in June to buy Houston-based HCC Insurance Holdings Inc. for around $7.5 billion, and Dai-ichi Life Insurance Co. struck a deal last year to acquire Protective Life Corp. for more than $5 billion.

“What can they do with their excess capital in Japan? Not a whole lot except invest it at very low interest rates,” Steven Schwartz, an analyst at Raymond James & Associates Inc., said in a phone interview. While the deal price “might not make any sense for a U.S. company, it does make sense for a Japanese company given what they can do with their capital.”

The transaction is expected to be completed by early in the second quarter of 2016 and Symetra’s management team will continue to lead the business in the U.S. Symetra doesn’t expect job cuts as a result of the deal, the insurer said in a regulatory filing.

“This transaction will further enhance our financial and earnings foundation by expanding the size of overseas revenues, diversifying the revenue base and thereby enabling us to build a well-balanced overseas business portfolio across Asia and the United States,” Sumitomo Chief Executive Officer Masahiro Hashimoto said in the statement.

Symetra, formerly a life insurance business of Safeco Corp., was bought in 2004 by investors led by Berkshire and White Mountains Insurance Group Ltd. The insurer sold stock in a 2010 initial public offering at $12 a share. Berkshire, which holds a 17 percent stake, and White Mountains, with 18 percent, agreed to vote in favor of the deal, according to the statement.

Symetra CEO Tom Marra and his deputies have “done a good job running the company and have executed a great deal for shareholders,” Buffett said in the statement.

White Mountains has been selling insurance assets in recent years. Allstate Corp. bought auto insurer Esurance and Answer Financial from White Mountains in 2011. China Minsheng Investment Corp. agreed in July to purchase White Mountains’ Sirius International Insurance Group Ltd. for about $2.2 billion.

Aflac Inc. CEO Dan Amos, who counts Japan as the largest market for his Columbus, Georgia-based company, has said he’s sitting out the insurance industry’s wave of deal-making because the market is too costly.

“The prices of insurance companies are through the roof,” Amos said July 29. “I can’t possibly see anything making any sense at this particular time.”

A week earlier, Japan’s Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance Co. agreed to buy Portland, Oregon-based StanCorp. Financial Group Inc. for about $5 billion. The price was $115 a share, a 49.9 percent premium on StanCorp’s one-month weighted-average share price.

Morgan Stanley is Symetra’s bank on the deal while Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP was a legal adviser.

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