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ATHENS (Reuters) - An offer for National Bank's insurance business by Calamos and Exin will be hard to match, partly because of the cultural and commercial links they have with Greece, the investment duo's chief executives said.
The pair are up against three Chinese groups looking to buy at least 75 percent of National Bank's (NBGr.AT) insurance unit as part of a regulator-approved restructuring plan by Greece's second-largest lender by assets to exit non-banking operations.
John Koudounis, CEO of Chicago-based Calamos Investments, reckons a Greek-American background is a major advantage in taking on Chinese groups Fosun (0656.HK), Shanghai-based Gongbao and Wintime to buy National Insurance.
Greece's oldest insurer, which was founded in 1891, provides life and non-life insurance products, had a 16.6 percent share of the market last year and 2015 net profit of 98 million euros.
Greek media have reported that the deal, which has to close by year-end, could be worth around 800 million euros. NBG, which is being advised by Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, is likely to make its decision on a buyer well before the deadline.
"We know the insurance market and we know Greece. We are long-term investors and will be in Greece to stay," Koudounis, whose Calamos fund has $20 billion under management, said.
"We are very confident that the entire package we bring to the table in this process will be unmatched," he said, adding that the deal is being closely watched by other prominent Greek-American investors who were "ready to pile in" to Greece.
Exin Partners, a Netherlands-based investor focused on insurance, reinsurance and asset management, bought insurer AIG-Greece from AIG in December, partnering with founders Canellopoulos Adamantiadis Insurance Agency.
"We aim to bring investment into the country, not take money out," Matt Fairfield, founder and co-CEO of Exin Partners, said.
Mergers and acquisitions picked up in Greece last year, but remained at low levels as several privatizations were delayed, according business consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers.
There were 38 M&A deals in Greece in 2016, nearly tripling in value to 4.4 billion euros from 1.4 billion in 2015, with 75 percent made up of the sales of Greek banks' non-core assets.
Other Greek banks have been divesting non-core assets and foreign subsidiaries. Eurobank (EURBr.AT) has sold an 80 percent stake in its insurance unit Eurolife to Canada's Fairfax Financial Holdings (FFH.TO) for 316 million euros.
Calamos-Exin is also looking at other sectors in Greece, including real estate, banks and non-performing loans, the CEOs said. They both declined to comment on pricing details due to non-disclosure agreements, but said the acquisition of National Insurance would be funded with equity capital and no debt.
Koudounis said now is the right time to be investing in Greece as long-awaited reforms get done, adding that foreign hedge funds had not timed their purchases of Greek banks well and were nursing losses.
"Even if we are a bit premature, because you can never time the exact bottom, in our model of long-term investing it won't matter," Koudounis said.
Editing by Jeremy Gaunt and Alexander Smith