CHARLOTTE, N.C. —American International Group said Monday that it will sell its American Life Insurance Co. division for $15.5 billion to MetLife Inc.
The government-approved deal, AIG's second big asset sale in two weeks, will give the insurer more cash to repay the billions of bailout dollars it still owes the government.
The purchase expands MetLife's presence in Japan and high-growth markets in Europe, the Middle East and Latin America. American Life Insurance, known as Alico, operates in more than 50 countries. MetLife currently offers services in 17 countries.
It also moves AIG closer to repaying taxpayers. As of Dec. 31, the company owed the Treasury and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York nearly $130 billion. AIG's bailout package was originally worth up to $182.5 billion.
On March 1, AIG agreed to sell Asia-based life insurer AIA Group to Britain's Prudential PLC for $35.5 billion. The two units, while selling similar products, don't operate in the same markets in Asia.
MetLife will pay $6.8 billion in cash for Alico. The rest of the purchase price will be paid in stock and what are called equity units, which are eventually convertible to common stock and preferred securities
AIG will initially hold an 8 percent stake in MetLife. Its stake will reach 14 percent in early 2011 after some MetLife preferred shares are converted into common shares. The stake could reach up to 20 percent, after the insurer receives $3 billion in equity units.
"Rarely does one come across a deal that has such a strong strategic fit," MetLife CEO Robert Henrikson said.
Henrikson said MetLife has been in the market for various domestic and overseas acquisitions over the past five years. He said he began discussing a possible Alico deal with AIG in December 2008, three months after the government bailout.
AIG and MetLife are based in New York. Robert Benmosche, the former head of MetLife, became AIG's CEO in August. Benmosche wasn't involved in the deal discussions, Henrikson said. All talks were handled by a special committee within AIG, he said.
The Alico deal, while good for MetLife, carries some risk, said Aite Group senior analyst Clark Troy.
"Japan is an aging society, and MetLife may face challenges growing revenue," Troy said. "However, MetLife does have the ways and means and experience to make the deal work, as they will be building on one of their stronger franchises."
MetLife currently has a successful variable annuity business in Japan.
MetLife's international business grew significantly in 2005 when the company acquired most of Citigroup's international insurance businesses, adding Japan, Australia and Britain to its portfolio. Before then, MetLife already had operations in South Korea, Chile and in Mexico, where it is the largest life insurer.
Henrikson said he didn't consider a purchase of AIA Group because "it didn't fit MetLife's growth plans."