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Japan’s Nippon Life eyeing M&A for foreign boutique bond and alternative funds

President of Nippon Life Insurance Co Yoshinobu Tsutsui. Photo: ReutersPresident of Nippon Life Insurance Co Yoshinobu Tsutsui. Photo: Reuters

Japan’s Nippon Life Insurance Co, which recently struck a deal to buy about a quarter of US investment firm TCW Group, is scouting for opportunities to buy boutique managers of bonds and alternative assets, its president said.

“Asset management is a business that can generate synergy with life insurance and it needs to be operated globally. We have been looking widely for potential partners,” Yoshinobu Tsutsui told Reuters in an interview.

The bulking up of asset management overseas by Japan’s largest private-sector life insurer comes as the nation’s insurers are increasingly shifting money away from Japanese government bonds (JGBs), their main investment, into riskier but higher-yielding ones such as foreign corporate bonds to diversify their returns.

Insurers in Japan have been hurt by diminishing investment returns after the Bank of Japan launched aggressive monetary easing in April 2013.

In December, Nippon Life announced a deal to acquire 24.75 per cent of TCW from private equity firm Carlyle Group LP. Nippon Life has about 74 trillion yen (£483.72 billion) in assets.

Mr Tsutsui said potential targets are likely to be asset management companies with bond investment expertise, as the insurer’s portfolio has been made up of fixed-income products.

Insurers in Japan have been hurt by diminishing investment returns

He also said the company is looking for specialists in alternative investments, whose real estate and other portfolios offer diversification from conventional bond and stock investments.

“As we have to diversify investment assets globally, alternative is an important field,” he said.

“The United States has a very big and deep market for asset management. There are huge companies but there are also small but unique boutiques. We would like to keep looking there,” he said.

Mr Tsutsui said while his company will curb fresh investment in JGBs further, US interest rate rises pose a challenge to its effort to increase foreign bond holdings.

“Hedging costs will rise with United States rate increases, that will diminish returns (from US Treasuries),” he said.

Japanese insurers usually hedge against currency swings when they buy foreign assets to protect their yen-denominated value.

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