Prudential saves (a bit) of face as AIA costs drop

The AIA fiasco cost the Pru less than expected - but shareholders still want heads to roll.

Last Updated: 28 Sep 2010
Things are looking up slightly for the Prudential: having suffered the embarrassment in June of failing to convince shareholders to back a bid for AIA, the Asian arm of US insurance giant AIG, it has managed to turn a surprisingly impressive profit for the first six months of the year: operating profits rose to £968m, up 41% on last year's £688m. What's more, the AIA fiasco cost the Pru less than expected: £377m, rather than £450m. Although that doesn't count the reputational damage, of course...
The improved figures will come as a relief to the company’s embattled chief executive, Tidjane Thiam, and chairman Harvey McGrath, both of whom have so far resisted calls to resign. The AIA deal, which has been described as a ‘miserable failure’, went badly from the start. Not only did the Financial Services Authority make life difficult with an investigation into competition issues, but the Pru’s shareholders, still sore after the recession, weren’t exactly enthusiastic about the amount it was paying for a deal with so much execution risk involved. In the end, the deal collapsed because AIA’s board refused to drop its price to the $30.4bn (£19.3bn) the Pru was offering.
Looking at today’s figures, you can see why the Pru was keen on AIA. While its UK sales have been fairly unremarkable, rising by just 2% over the last six months, sales in South-East Asia have been going great guns, jumping 46% to £452m. And while the AIA deal didn’t work out, the Pru’s other investments in the country have been growing nicely. So you can why there were whispers at the time of the AIA bid that the Pru was planning to abandon the UK altogether, and focus on its high-growth Asian markets instead.
But while these results are pretty good, £377m is not exactly peanuts; the deal’s failure has still had a big impact on the company’s bottom line. And there are still rumbles of dissent from shareholders, who want at least one of Thiam and McGrath to walk so the company can ‘put the affair behind it’. So far they've seemed determined to brazen it out - and these numbers give them a fighting chance of hanging on a bit longer. But the two men, who were both criticised for failing to read the City’s mood at the time, will know that it'll take more than one good half to earn back shareholders' trust.

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