CVC Capital in talks to buy Phoenix for about £1.2bn

CVC Capital Partners, the private equity owner of Formula One, is in talks to buy the Phoenix insurance group for an estimated £1.2bn.

The insurance group, formerly known as Pearl, and once run by Pizza Express founder Hugh Osmond, said yesterday that it had received several approaches for its business.

In a statement last night after Clive Cowdery's Resolution insurance vehicle said it had terminated takeover discussions with Phoenix, the group named CVC as a suitor for the first time.

Alluding to "certain other approaches", but only naming one, Phoenix said it was "continuing to consider whether CVC's approach might form the basis of an offer that was appropriate to recommend to Phoenix's shareholders."

Swiss Re, one of the world's biggest reinsurance companies, is thought to be among the other potential bidders for Phoenix.

Phoenix is a so-called Zombie fund, owning old life assurance and pension policies originally sold by financial services firms such as National Provident, London Life and Scottish Mutual. It holds about £70bn of assets on behalf of around six million customers.

Phoenix has been through a series of transformations in recent years, culminating in a debt-restructuring and equity injection from Nicolas Berggruen, the US billionaire.

Mr Berggruen installed a new management team, led by Ron Sandler, the troubleshooter parachuted in to help turn round Northern Rock as non-executive chairman.

Mr Sandler was keen to talk up the prospects for Phoenix yesterday, after Resolution's departure, saying: "Phoenix is a resilient business with robust and predictable long-term cash flows."

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