Aviva warns off Asian stake-builders

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Aviva yesterday warned off Asian rivals from taking strategic stakes in the company amid speculation that Chinese insurers could use their financial strength to buy into international competitors.

Chinese insurers such as Ping An and China Life are being encouraged by Beijing to buy stakes in Western companies and form joint ventures. Aviva and its UK rival Prudential could be on their list because of their international businesses in developing markets.

Philip Scott, Aviva's finance director, said: "We would regard Ping An and China Life as competitors, and as a matter of policy around the world we do not seek to enter into strategic relationships with competitors. Having said that, should the portfolio managers who manage money for any of our competitors wish to include Aviva shares in their portfolios, they are welcome to do so."

Britain's biggest insurer announced a 25 per cent rise in total long-term savings sales for 2007 to £38.6bn. Sales in Asia Pacific rose by 60 per cent to £4.1bn and the region now makes up about 11 per cent of total sales. Aviva has been expanding in Asia, where it lags Prudential, and has entered Taiwan, Malaysia and Korea in the past six months.

Aviva is thought to be in the running to buy Standard Chartered's Indian fund management business, which is up for sale after a deal agreed with UBS in 2006 was rejected by the Indian central bank. UBS agreed to buy the business for $120m (£61m), but Standard Chartered is likely to want a lot more now, because its assets under management have risen about 50 per cent since then.

Mr Scott declined to comment on the sale of the Standard Chartered business, but he noted: "We have said we have ambitions to grow our asset management business globally and we will look at opportunities, but they have got to be in the right place and at the right price."

The increase in total sales, which beat analysts' forecasts, was driven by Aviva's acquisition of AmerUS in the US, where sales more than quadrupled.