AIA "confusion' creates opportunities in asia, Manulife says

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Manulife Financial Corp. Chief Executive Officer Donald Guloien said the Canadian insurer stands to benefit from "confusion" in Asia surrounding the status of American International Group Inc.'s local unit.

"The more there's confusion about what's going on, it provides opportunities for people to deal with what's a very stable situation here at Manulife," Guloien said Monday in a telephone interview.

Prudential Plc terminated a $35.5 billion agreement to buy AIG's AIA Group Ltd. on June 2 after Prudential shareholders balked at the price. Guloien said the scrapped deal may cause clients to turn to Toronto-based Manulife, which has been in Asia since 1897 and operates in 11 countries in the region, including China, Hong Kong and Vietnam.

"I think uncertainty just creates impressions in people's minds," said Guloien, 53. "AIA is a fine company, but Manulife is seen as a very stable partner to buy insurance from, to buy wealth-management products from and to do business with as a distributor."

Manulife has been expanding in Asia, largely without making acquisitions. Last month, Canada's largest insurer said earnings from its Asia and Japan unit almost tripled to C$427 million ($405.5 million). The unit represented 17 percent of its C$40.1 billion in revenue last year, according to Bloomberg data.

"Same old, same old is pretty good in Asia," said Guloien, who declined to comment on whether Manulife bid for AIA Group. "We're recruiting more agents, selling more product, and providing a very, very strong value proposition to clients which bodes well for growth in Asia."

"˜Extremely full price'

Guloien reiterated comments he made in March that AIA Group was being sold at an "extremely full price."

Potential countries for Asian expansion include Korea and India, Guloien said. He also said that because of Europe's sovereign debt crisis, "opportunities could theoretically emerge." He wasn't specific.

In March, Manulife bought Fortis Bank SA/NV's 49 percent stake in a Chinese wealth-management joint venture now known as Manulife TEDA Fund Management Co. Assets under management for the joint venture were $4.4 billion at the end of December. Manulife also plans to get approval to allow foreign investors to invest in Chinese stocks, Guloien said.

TEDA "has a very significant spot in the Chinese asset- management world," Guloien said. "Having an asset-management company is an important ingredient in broadening the number of things we can offer our clients in China."

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