* Could raise at least $4 bln, likely biggest ever in Korea
* No details yet on value & whether IPO includes new shares
* Comes when other life insurers are also eyeing Asia IPOs (Adds Reuters Insider link; recasts headline. No changes to text)
By Kim Yeon-hee
SEOUL, Jan 20 (Reuters) - South Korea’s Samsung Life Insurance will go public in May or June, a source said, marking the country’s largest IPO estimated to be least $4 billion and one of several high-profile sector listings slated for 2010 in Asia.
Samsung Life, South Korea’s largest life insurer and part of Samsung Group, is set to hand in its IPO application on Thursday to kick off the process, the source, who has direct knowledge of the process, said on Wednesday.
At $4 billion, as is widely reported in the local media, Samsung Life’s IPO would become the country’s largest stock offering, overtaking the $3.8 billion raised by Lotte Shopping’s (023530.KS) float in 2006.
Samsung Life is tipped to be the second-largest stock in Korea upon listing, behind affiliate Samsung Electronics Co Ltd (005930.KS), with a market value of 20 trillion won, according to some fund managers.
They see the insurer as a major stock in their portfolios, at the expense of other financial sector shares.
“Their IPO will be burdensome for the whole market, given the size, and will continue to weigh on other financial stocks until their listing,” said HK Chae, an equity fund manager at Meritz Investment Bank.
Samsung Life’s eagerly anticipated offering will be the highlight of what is expected to be a robust year for IPOs in South Korea, where low interest rates and a solid stock market recovery are stoking appetite for new issues.
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It is also part of a growing list of life insurers wanting to take the IPO route in Asia, capitalising on strong equity markets that has lifted their investment returns. [ID:nT334481]
The insurers’ eagerness to list is fast becoming a race to the market.
Korea Life Insurance, the country’s No. 2 life insurer, has advanced the timeline for an estimated $2 billion IPO to the first quarter of this year from the second quarter to tap the market ahead of Samsung Life. Korea Life’s parent Hanwha Group submitted its IPO application last month. [ID:nTOE60H04B]
Korea Economic Daily reported on Wednesday that Samsung Life would bring forward its IPO timeline to early April to avoid competition from other Asian insurer listings, including the planned Hong Kong IPO of American International Group’s (AIG.N) Asian life insurance unit.
But the source disputed the timeline for Samsung Life’s IPO.
“(The company) is aiming for a first-half IPO as planned earlier,” the source told Reuters, asking not to be named because he was not authorised to comment on the matter.
“The company will follow its own procedure, under which the IPO cannot be done earlier than May or June,” he added.
Samsung Life declined comment.
Shares of companies with stakes in the top two Korean life insurers were up on Wednesday, with retailer Shinsegae (004170.KS), which owned 13.6 percent of Samsung Life as of end-September, rising 2.8 percent versus the 0.2 percent gain for the wider market .KS11.
Lee Kun-hee, former chairman of the Samsung Group, was the single largest shareholder in the insurance unit as of late last year with a 20.8 percent stake, according to a regulatory filing.
Unlisted Samsung Everland, which serves as a de-facto holding company for the parent group, held a 13.3 percent stake.
Goldman Sachs (GS.N), Bank of America-Merrill Lynch (BAC.N) and Morgan Stanley (MS.N) are among those handling Samsung Life’s IPO. [ID:nSEO1254] (Editing by Jonathan Hopfner and Muralikumar Anantharaman)