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Fairfax nabs a bundle of AIG insurance businesses

In this file photo, a car speeds past a sign in front of AIG's financial products offices in Wilton, Conn.

Stephen Chernin/AP

Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd. is picking up pieces of American International Group Inc. in a move that recalls the aftermath of the financial crisis.

After making money betting that financial services companies would struggle ahead of the 2008 financial meltdown, the Toronto-based insurance and investment company is buying some of New York-based AIG's businesses as it continues to restructure.

Fairfax said Tuesday that it would acquire property and casualty insurance businesses in several countries in Latin America and Eastern Europe for about $240-million. Fairfax has been drawn to these regions where there's more room to grow the amount of insurance bought by individuals and businesses than in other parts of the world where the market is more mature. The deal broadens Fairfax's base in two parts of the world where it has said it wants to expand.

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This is the latest opportunistic acquisition for Fairfax, which has been stepping in to buy businesses from some of the large multinational insurers around the world that have pursued the sale of their fringe insurance operations to shore up capital. In 2014 Fairfax acquired several properties in Eastern Europe from Sydney-based QBE Insurance Ltd. and earlier this year it bought Zurich Insurance Company Ltd.'s South African operations.

Along with unsteady markets, some insurance companies are grappling with post-financial crisis European Union legislation that increased the amount of capital that that must be held to reduce the risk of insolvency, called Solvency II.

For AIG the deal is the latest step in its ongoing transformation towards being a more trim and nimble company, despite continuing struggles against low interest rates, the recovery from the Brexit vote, and volatile markets. Like many other global insurers, AIG has been looking to bolster its capital levels. But the company has also been facing pressure from activist shareholders in recent months, giving board seats to Carl Icahn and John Paulson earlier this year.

Last month, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board also struck a deal with AIG, acquiring its subsidiary in the global insurance network Lloyd's of London for $1.1-billion (U.S.).

"This partnership marks a significant step forward in achieving the strategic priorities of AIG, as well as Fairfax," said Peter Hancock, CEO of AIG, in a statement. "We look forward to expanding our multinational network partner relationship with Fairfax to provide seamless world-class capabilities and outstanding service to our global clients in these key countries."

Through the transaction with AIG, Fairfax gains businesses in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Uruguay, Venezuela in Latin America. It also takes assets in Turkey, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.

Prem Watsa, founder and CEO of Fairfax, said in a statement that the Latin American businesses were well established in their respective markets "with experienced management teams and a disciplined approach to underwriting, and they will significantly expand Fairfax's footprint in Latin America." He added that the Eastern European businesses would accelerate Fairfax's growth in the region.

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About the Author
Financial Services Reporter

Jacqueline Nelson is a financial services reporter at the Report on Business. Prior to that she was a staff writer at Canadian Business magazine, covering news and writing features on a wide variety of subjects. More

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