Ageas and Helvetia in final race for Spanish insurer Caser: sources

LONDON/MADRID (Reuters) - Belgian insurer Ageas AGES.BR and Swiss rival Helvetia HELN.S have advanced to the final stages of an auction for Spain's Caser Seguros that values the 77-year old insurer at about 1 billion euros, sources told Reuters.

The logo of Swiss Helvetia insurance is seen at an office building in Zurich, Switzerland September 28, 2016. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

Caser will review the two proposals at a board meeting on Dec. 18 but its fragmented shareholder structure means a final decision may slip into January, one of the sources said.

Madrid-based Caser is one of Spain’s leading players in bancassurance providing life, health and car insurance policies through a network of regional banks which sell its products.

Ageas and Helvetia trumped a rival proposal from Spanish insurer Santa Lucia, the sources said, adding it did not fulfill the conditions that Caser had laid out for bids to be accepted.

The Netherlands’ biggest insurer NN Group NV decided instead to walk away from the process after showing initial interest, the first source said.

Helvetia, NN Group and Santa Lucia declined to comment while Caser and Ageas were not immediately available.

Caser launched an auction process for about 60% of the company’s shares earlier this year.

Nomura and Barclays are handling the sale and have so far only targeted industry players rather than private equity funds that typically have a shorter investment horizon and would seek an exit after three to five years, the sources said.

Ageas and Helvetia have both submitted bids that value Caser at roughly 1 billion euros ($1.10 billion), just short of a 1.2 billion price tag that the sellers were hoping to fetch, the sources said.

French insurer Covea owns a 20% stake in Caser, ranking as its single biggest investor.

Covea has teamed up with three Spanish banks - Bankia BKIA.MC, Caixabank CABK.MC and Abanca - that hold a combined 36.4% of Caser, to find a new owner.

Banco Sabadell SABE.MC and BBVA BBVA.MC have a stake of 1.8% and 0.2%, respectively, and may also sell depending on the final valuation, sources previously said.

Three other regional banks - Liberbank LBK.MC, Unicaja UNI.MC and Ibercaja - control an overall 36.1% stake of Caser and have close business ties with the insurer as they distribute its products across their client network.

These banks are expected to retain some exposure to Caser to protect their own interest, the sources said.

($1 = 0.9073 euros)

Reporting by Pamela Barbaglia in London and Jesus Aguado in Madrid; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle