Axis determined to seal PartnerRe deal

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  • Axis CEO Albert Benchimol

    Axis CEO Albert Benchimol

  • Exor CEO John Elkann

    Exor CEO John Elkann

Bermuda reinsurer Axis is set to fight a bid by the billionaire Italian Agnelli family to take over PartnerRe.

Axis earlier this year confirmed a deal to merge with PartnerRe — but the Agnelli-controlled Exor investment company on Tuesday stepped in with a surprise $6.4 billion cash bid.

If successful, PartnerRe would make up a third of the Exor portfolio, which includes controlling stakes in car giant Fiat Chrysler and top flight Turin football club Juventus.

Yesterday analysts said PartnerRe management might welcome a “white knight” buyout by Exor.

Roberto Lottici, a fund manager at Italian bank Ifigest told Reuters: “It seems to me that the PartnerRe management wasn’t particularly happy about the Axis tie-up since Axis managers would have taken over.

“They might appreciate a white knight.”

President and CEO of Axis Capital Albert Benchimol yesterday did not address the Exor bid directly.

But he said: “Axis Capital is fully committed to its combination with PartnerRe Ltd.

“Our transaction with PartnerRe brings together two independently strong companies to create one broadly diversified global specialty insurance and reinsurance company whose scale, capital and enhanced market presence will form a powerhouse within the industry.”

Mr Benchimol spoke out after the Agnellis, the family behind the massive Fiat Chrysler car group, who also control luxury sports car maker Ferrari, pledged to keep PartnerRe, which employs more than 60 people in Bermuda, as a stand-alone company.

The merger deal, however, would create a larger company better able to weather difficult market conditions amid strong price competition and weaker demand.

But the tie-up between the rival firms would lead to job losses at both firms, which set a $200 million a year cost reduction target.

Mr Benchimol said: “The combined company will have a strong capital position, significant financial strength, a combined world-class management team and industry-leading talent.

“As such it will deliver significant operating and capital synergies as well as an expanded solution set offering for clients and partners.

“We are confident that the combined company is positioned to deliver superior and sustainable value to all shareholders.”

The Exor bid amounts to $130 a share — a 16 per cent premium on the PartnerRe/Axis all-share transaction, according to the Italian firm.

In a conference call to discuss the bid yesterday, Exor chairman and chief executive John Elkann said: “PartnerRe is an attractive investment for Exor, consistent with its focus on leading global companies.

“Exor will be a stable and committed owner for PartnerRe, further strengthening its position as a leading global reinsurer.

“Exor intends to retain key management and the PartnerRe brand.”

And Mr Elkann said: “The Exor all-cash offer provides value certainty. In contrast, the Axis offer value is uncertain and depends on realised synergies and retaining key clients and employees, in addition to market risk.”

And Exor, which was one of the founding investors in PartnerRe when it launched in 1993, added that it was “envisaged to be a friendly proposal and an expeditious process”.

Mr Elkann added: “Exor’s offer for PartnerRe constitutes a superior proposal to the Axis all-share transaction, providing a significant premium, all-cash consideration and greater certainty to PartnerRe shareholders.”

PartnerRe said after the bid was announced said its board would examine the competing bid by Exor “to determine the course of action that it believes is in the best interests of PartnerRe and its shareholders”.

Axis, which has 72 staff in Bermuda, and PartnerRe are in neighbouring buildings in the Waterfront complex in Pembroke.

A merger between the two would create a group with market capitalisation of $11 billion and make it the fifth largest property and casualty reinsurer in the world.

Exor is listed on the Milan Stock Exchange and has a market capitalisation of around $11 billion and a net asset value of close to $14 billion.

Should PartnerRe walk away from the Axis merger, it would be subject to a $250 million break-up fee under the terms of the deal.

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Published Apr 16, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated Apr 15, 2015 at 7:32 pm)

Axis determined to seal PartnerRe deal

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