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Asteron, Tyndall NZ targets as Suncorp fields offers

Most of Suncorp-Metway’s New Zealand assets were likely to be on the market after the ASX-listed financial services firm confirmed yesterday it had received “several approaches” for its banking and wealth management businesses.

Tuesday, October 7th 2008, 5:16AM

by David Chaplin

Standard & Poors (S&P) immediately put Suncorp’s A=/A-1 rating on CreditWatch, or hold, until details of any sale were revealed.

“The CreditWatch placement, which also applies to Suncorp's insurance operations, reflects uncertainty about Suncorp's future corporate structure following the potential divestment of its banking and wealth management operations,” S&P said in a statement.

In New Zealand, Suncorp owns a range of businesses including Asteron Life, Guardian Trust, Tyndall Investment Management, Vero and LJ Hooker. While Suncorp has no banking interests in New Zealand, it includes Tyndall, Asteron and Guardian Trust under its wealth management assets.

The group also has a 50% share of funds administration firm MMC.

A Suncorp spokesman told Good Returns that: “The New Zealand operations are performing well and are an important part of the group.”

After mounting media speculation in Australia, the Queensland-based Suncorp admitted yesterday it had appointed Lazard Carnegie Wylie and UBS to advise on the offers. According to Australian media reports, ANZ had approached Suncorp regarding its banking and wealth management arms.

"Shareholders are advised that these preliminary approaches may or may not lead to formal proposals being made to Suncorp,” the company told the ASX.

In its annual report released late in September, Suncorp revealed its net profit was down almost 50% compared to last year. The group attributed the losses to higher general insurance claims after an “unprecedented number of major weather events” in Australia and New Zealand.

Suncorp was also hit by the credit crunch with increased borrowing costs and direct exposure to debt of some failing companies.

The group is Australia’s second largest home and car insurer and the country’s sixth biggest bank. Suncorp bought the insurance and funds management firm Promina, which included Tyndall, Asteron and Guardian Trust, late in 2006 for almost $9 billion.

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