Swiss Re CFO says SoftBank talks still on but no clear sign of deal

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(Reuters) — Swiss Re Ltd. said it was still in discussions with SoftBank on Friday about the Japanese group potentially taking a stake in the reinsurer but that a deal was not a sure thing.

Swiss Re and its competitors have been under pressure in recent years from falling prices amid intense competition, and a fresh investor like SoftBank could open new streams of revenue from the fast-growing and unsaturated insurance market of Asia.

“We continue to be in discussions with SoftBank,” John Dacey, Swiss Re’s chief financial officer, told reporters on a call. But there is “no clear indication that they will result in a completed transaction.”

Mr. Dacey said that Swiss Re would welcome an important long-term shareholder. “But we don’t feel that we need one,” he said. “We want to be sure we are treating existing shareholders fairly.”

The finance chief also said that Swiss Re wasn’t just talking to SoftBank. “We aren’t exclusive to SoftBank in the sense that we talk to many large groups that might have interesting views on the future of risks and opportunities,” he said.

Swiss Re said last month that Japan’s SoftBank wanted to buy a stake in the Zurich-based company of under 10%, and the pair were also exploring strategic cooperation.

At the time, Swiss Re Chief Executive Christian Mumenthaler was enthusiastic about the opportunities SoftBank could present, such as its ties to China and focus on technology.

Analysts have said Swiss Re’s research capabilities, undervalued stock and cash generation are attractive. SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son has said he wants to build a group of industry-leading companies powered by technological advancements in artificial intelligence and interconnected devices.

Through its investment arm centered on the Vision Fund, the world’s largest private equity fund, SoftBank has already funneled $27.5 billion into tech firms around the world. That could bring a huge number of potential insurance customers — from ride-share drivers to dog walking app users — into what Mr. Son calls his “synergy group” of companies.

SoftBank declined to comment on Friday.

Swiss Re, meanwhile, posted a better-than-expected net profit in the first quarter, although it was still down from a year ago amid continuing pressure on reinsurance prices.

Net profit was $457 million, down 30% from $656 million a year earlier. But it was above expectations of $447 million forecast by analysts in a Reuters poll.

The world’s second-biggest reinsurer earned more in the first quarter than it did in the whole of last year, when it took a severe hit from a spate of natural disasters in North America.

“We delivered a solid set of results across the board in the first quarter of 2018, as we maintained our underwriting discipline while expanding in an improving, yet still challenging, re/insurance pricing environment,” Mr. Mumenthaler said.

Gross written premiums were up 13.1% in the quarter, at $11.5 billion, better than the $10.6 billion expected by analysts and above $10.2 billion a year ago.

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