Mumbai: French insurer BNP Paribas Cardif has appointed three investment banks to scout for buyers for a portion of its stake in SBI Life Insurance Co. Ltd that is worth at least $500 million, said two people aware of the development. BNP Paribas Cardif formed the life insurance joint venture with state-run lender State Bank of India (SBI) in 2001. SBI currently owns 62.1% in the company while BNP Paribas Cardif holds 22%.

“Cardif has appointed investment banks Kotak Mahindra Capital, Citigroup and the investment banking arm of BNP Paribas to help it run a process to sell part of its stake in SBI Life Insurance," said the first person cited above, requesting anonymity. “They are looking to sell around 5%-6% stake, which at the current market capitalization of over 60,000 crore would mean a stake sale of around $500 million," the person said.

According to the second person cited above, BNP Paribas Cardif could sell more stake to trim the total shareholding of promoters in SBI Life to 75% to meet the minimum public shareholding norms of Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi), which requires listed entities to have a public float of at least 25%.

“They could look at selling more stake. That will bring down the promoter shareholding to 75% from 84% currently. They could look at a mix of sale routes, such as block trades and the offer for sale mechanism," the person said, requesting anonymity.

He, however, added that SBI currently has no plan to pare its stake in the life insurer.

SBI Life and Citigroup declined to comment. “No firm decision has been made regarding the size, timing or nature of such reduction in stake," a spokesperson for BNP Paribas Cardif said. Kotak Mahindra did not respond to an email seeking comment.

SBI Life went public in September 2017 in an initial public offering (IPO) that saw the two promoters collectively sell 12% stake, with SBI selling 8% and BNP Paribas Cardif selling 4%. The total IPO size was worth 8,400 crore, with SBI raising around 5,600 crore and BNP Paribas Cardif around 2,800 crore. The IPO was subscribed 3.57 times at a price of 700 per share, valuing the company at 70,000 crore. On Wednesday, shares of SBI Life closed at 616.65.

SBI Life, in December 2016, sold a 3.9% stake to investors KKR and Co. LP and Temasek Holdings Pvt Ltd for around 1,794 crore. The transaction valued the insurer at 46,000 crore.

BNP Paribas Cardif’s SBI Life stake sale plans add to the frenetic deal activity in the insurance sector this year.

Last month, a consortium of WestBridge Capital, Madison Capital and billionaire stock market investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala acquired Star Health and Allied Insurance for close to $1 billion from a clutch of private equity firms.

On 5 September, Mint reported that a proposed 4% stake sale in SBI General Insurance Co. has drawn interest from at least three global private equity investors, including KKR and Co., Temasek Holdings and Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB).

Home-grown private equity firm True North has been in talks to acquire a 40% stake in Royal Sundaram General Insurance Co. Ltd, according to media reports.

State-owned IDBI Bank Ltd is looking to sell its 48% stake in insurance joint venture IDBI Federal Life Insurance Co. Ltd to raise capital. However, with Life Insurance Corp of India (LIC) in the process of buying a 51% stake in the bank, the deal is likely to be put on the back burner, Mint reported in August.

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