Great Eastern weighs options on Malaysian unit's stake sale

Singapore-listed Great Eastern Holdings Ltd (GEH) said it is "assessing possible options" relating to a minority stake in Great Eastern Life Assurance (M) Bhd to comply with foreign ownership requirements. British life insurer Prudential plc and Japan's Tokio Marine Holdings were also said to be in negotiations to sell nearly a third of their stakes in their Malaysian subsidiaries, by way of strategic stake sales or initial public offerings in the country.

Great Eastern Holdings has already engaged a Malaysian bank to discuss the potential sale of Malaysia operations for US$1 billion, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday citing people familiar with the matter.

GEH, the insurance arm of OCBC, was responding to reports in the Singapore Straits Times and Business Times on Wednesday in relation to its stakes in the Malaysian operations.

It is to comply with the prevailing foreign ownership requirements applicable to insurance companies in Malaysia.

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In the latest development, GEH told shareholders to refrain from taking any action in respects of their shares which may be prejudicial to the interest and to exercise caution when dealing in the shares.

Based on Great Eastern Life Assurance (Malaysia)'s annual report, the unit contributed about 40 per cent to GE's pre-tax profit for previous year - about 6 per cent of GE parent company OCBC group's pre-tax profit, said a DBS research report on Wednesday.

GE is one of Malaysia's oldest life insurers and reportedly its second-largest by net premiums.

The WSJ said both Prudential and Tokio Marine planned to sell close to a third of the shares in their Malaysian units.

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