David Prosser: Man at the Pru takes a huge leap of faith
Tuesday 02 March 2010
Outlook: One thought about Prudential's giant acquisition in Asia: what do all those folk who bemoaned the sell-off of British assets when Kraft bought Cadbury a few weeks ago have to say about this deal?
This acquisition of a foreign company by a UK business is far larger than the Cadbury deal, but this sort of inconvenient truth tends to be overlooked in the hysterical debate about the loss of our own.
Still, for all the excitement about the prospects in Asia for a business that essentially depends on finding new sources of younger, affluent customers, large takeovers and mergers are notoriously difficult to manage (as Kraft itself may yet discover). The Pru's chief executive, Tidjane Thiam, is about as highly regarded as any British boss you can think of, but this will be a huge test of his skills.
On the plus side, this deal will give Pru the exposure to Hong Kong – three-quarters of its assets, up from a third today – it has craved for some time. And the price looks reasonable: Pru is paying significantly less for AIA, on an embedded value basis, than France's Axa is having to shell out in order to acquire the parts of its Asian business it does not already own. The US government-owned AIG is still in fire sale mode, it seems.
Like HSBC, yesterday's other big news, Prudential believes the future lies in the East. Could Mr Thiam eventually follow the lead of HSBC boss Michael Geoghegan, who now works out of Hong Kong, to stress the importance of the region to the bank?
Eventually, we might even have to start worrying about losing Pru to foreigners after all. It said yesterday there were no plans to offload the British end of the business, for now. But that may change in the longer term if Asia proves to as powerful an engine room as Mr Thiam hopes.
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