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Ping An plans to stop revised bid for Fortis

PING An Insurance (Group) Co, the biggest investor in Fortis, plans to vote against BNP Paribas SA's revised bid to buy some of Fortis's units, saying the improved terms aren't sufficient.

''Ping An intends to vote against the deal,'' Seung Chong, a lawyer at White & Case LLP who represents the Chinese insurer in Hong Kong, said by telephone with Bloomberg News yesterday. ''The revised bid is better than the previous one, but Ping An as well as some other shareholders that we don't speak for are still looking for something better.''

In offering better terms, BNP Paribas sought to overcome a court challenge to the deal. The Paris-based bank agreed to buy a smaller stake in Fortis's Belgian insurance unit and take on more of its toxic assets. Shareholders vote on February 11 on the bid. Fortis urged shareholders last Saturday to endorse the revised offer, saying the original agreement would become valid again should investors reject the new terms.

Under the new terms negotiated last Friday, Fortis will keep 90 percent of Belgium's largest insurance company while its stake in a 10.4-billion-euro (US$13.3 billion) pool of toxic assets will be reduced to 1 billion euros. BNP Paribas will still buy 75 percent of the banking unit, with Belgium retaining the remaining 25 percent.

Fortis declined 2 cents, or 1.4 percent, to 1.65 euros at 11:35am in Brussels trading, valuing the financial-services firm at 3.87 billion euros. The shares have added 75 percent since the Brussels Court of Appeals blocked the transaction on December 12.

Key votes

''Ping An's votes will be key to getting the improved deal voted in,'' Benoit Petrarque, an Amsterdam-based analyst at Kepler Capital Markets who recommends buying the stock, wrote in a note on Monday. ''A negative vote would raise the legal risk, as BNP Paribas and the Belgian state could request that the court force the deal through if Fortis refuses to participate.''

Ping An held about 121 million Fortis shares as of September 1, according to a November 5 regulatory filing. That equals 5.1 percent of outstanding shares with voting rights.

Ping An first bought Fortis shares in late 2007, when it acquired a 4.2-percent stake for 1.81 billion euros. The insurer bought more shares in June 2008 to maintain its stake as Fortis raised 1.5 billion euros from a share sale.


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