RSA Insurance Group Plc surged by the most in six years after Switzerland’s Zurich Insurance Group said it was considering making an offer, stirring speculation the British company could attract another suitor.
Zurich said in a statement Tuesday its deliberations don’t “amount to a firm intention” to make an offer. RSA could fetch about 563 pence a share, or about 5.7 billion pounds ($8.8 billion), according to analysts at Panmure Gordon & Co. The stock rose as much as 14 percent and was up 57.2 pence to 495 pence as of 9:58 a.m. in London.
“RSA is now effectively in play,” said Barrie Cornes, an analyst at Panmure with a hold rating on the insurer. “Others will now place the slide rule over the company that has for many many years been a perennial takeover story. Axa or a number of other U.S. and European insurers could be interested.”
A purchase would be the biggest for Zurich since 2000. It would allow Chief Executive Officer Martin Senn, 58, to expand in the U.K. and Latin America and give the Swiss company access to RSA’s profitable Scandinavian and Canadian units. Zurich said in May it would redeploy $3 billion of surplus capital by the end of 2016.
Zurich fell as much as 3.5 percent and was down 1.4 percent to 292.2 francs in Swiss trading for market value of 43.7 billion francs ($45 billion). The stock is down 6.3 percent this year. Officials at Axa in Paris couldn’t immediately comment and an RSA spokeswoman declined to comment.
A takeover would cap a tumultuous two-year period for RSA which has included an accounting scandal in Ireland in 2013, Simon Lee’s departure as CEO, a stock sale as well as a spate of asset sales to shore up the balance sheet. Stephen Hester, the former CEO of Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc, took the reins at RSA last year.
Before today, RSA’s stock was down 4.6 percent over the past 12 months, the worst performer in the nine-member FTSE 350 Nonlife Insurance Index, which gained 15 percent in the period.
The three-century-old company, formerly known as Royal and Sun Alliance, focuses on household and auto as well as commercial property and liability cover. The firm posted a pretax profit of 275 million pounds in 2014, compared with a loss the previous year.
The company’s 3.1 billion-pound pension fund deficit may yet present a hurdle to a deal, analysts said.
“The transaction could still make sense,” said Sami Taipalus, a London-based analyst at Berenberg. “With a group as big as Zurich the pension liabilities don’t really matter.”