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Zurich continues asset overhaul

Zurich's cost-cutting measures might help to keep the company afloat


The Swiss-based insurance group, Zurich Financial Services, has sold UK fund manager Threadneedle to American Express for SFr740 million ($570 million).

The deal reflects Zurich's strategy to refocus on its core business and return to profitability after several years of financial troubles.

The sale, which fell short of the SFr1 billion price tag originally put on Threadneedle - one of Britain's largest fund managers - comes two weeks after Zurich offloaded most of its United States life insurance business.

Analysts said they expected the robust trimming of the group to give the company's share price another boost.

"It is quite positive," said analyst Philippe Cornet at Credit Agricole Indosuez Cheuvreux.

Asset sell-off

The Swiss company, which is Europe's third-largest insurer, has been actively selling off assets following a $3.4 billion loss in 2002.

Last month it sold most of Zurich Life, one of the top ten US life insurers, to Bank One Corp for SFr648 million.

In March, Zurich announced the sale of its asset management business in India.

The insurer has been one of several high-profile Swiss companies to suffer massive losses in recent years.

Capital crisis

After expanding aggressively in the 1990s, the company found itself overstretched and starved of funds.

The company has also been heavily hit by falling equity prices.

However, there are signs that the firm's cost-cutting measures are bearing fruit. Zurich recently announced a $114 million first-quarter profit, fanning hopes for a full recovery this year.

Under the deal, Threadneedle will continue to manage assets for Zurich Financial Services UK for an initial term of up to eight years.

Threadneedle will also continue to distribute products through Zurich's financial advisor network.

"The sale of Threadneedle marks yet another step in the implementation of our strategy to refocus on our core businesses," said chief executive James Schiro.

"Decent price"

Richard Schreuder, an insurance industry analyst at Barclays in London, said the sale was good news for Zurich.

"Given the overall equity market trend of the past couple of years, it's a decent price," Schreuder told swissinfo.

"Buyers have the upper hand at the moment and sellers are not in a strong position when it comes to fund management businesses," he added.

Schreuder said the firm was showing signs that it was poised for a full recovery.

"The company expanded significantly in the second half of the 1990s. Now it's looking at its core strengths and investors are increasingly confidant Zurich's new management will be able to turn the business around.

"This is quite likely to become a successful turn-around story."

The sale of Threadneedle is subject to approval by regulators.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Zurich Financial Services has sold Threadneedle - its UK investment manager - for SFr740 million ($570 million).
The buyer is American Express.
The sale comes a fortnight after Zurich sold most of its life insurance business in the United States.
The insurer suffered losses of $3.4 billion in 2002.

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