Royal Bank of Canada is looking for a buyer for its U.S. insurance unit, Liberty Life Insurance Co., Bloomberg News reported on Tuesday.
If the rumors are true, it could be a sign that the bank has decided to pull out of the U.S., said Michael Goldberg, an analyst at Desjardins Securities, in a note to clients.
“If the reported effort to sell Liberty is true, we would view it as Royal Bank of Canada culling its US operations, consistent with a strategy to ‘go big or go home’, having come to the conclusion that it has no viable prospect of establishing a stronger US insurance franchise,” Goldberg said. “Our view has been that Royal will eventually decide to go big. The sale of Liberty would then provide some proceeds that could be redeployed in that direction.”
Goldman Sachs Group has been helping the bank look for buyers and is expected to sell for less than $1 billion, according to Bloomberg’s sources. The unit was bought over a decade ago for $650 million.
Gillian McArdle, a spokeswoman at Royal Bank of Canada, declined to comment, saying in an email that “we don’t comment on rumors or speculation about any of our businesses.”
In March, Gord Nixon, Royal Bank of Canada’s chief executive, said in an interview at Bloomberg’s headquarters in New York that the firm will weigh all options for its U.S. consumer bank including a sale, merger or takeovers to revive its business after posting seven straight quarterly losses.
In May, the Canadian company's U.S. operation’s chairman and chief executive, W. James Westlake, said the bank feels no added pressure to resume U.S. acquisitions despite the fact Toronto-Dominion Bank is buying South Financial Group Inc. in Greenville, S.C. — a move that would give TD its first banking operations in the Carolinas, where RBC Bank is based.
“This doesn't change anything for us,” Westlake said in an interview in May after a speech at the North Carolina CEO Forum. Despite the new TD Bank presence in the Carolinas and Florida, Westlake saw just a “minor overlap” in the markets served by the Canadian-owned banks. But H. Lynn Harton, South Financial's chief executive, said that selling to TD “absolutely” creates a growth opportunity in the Southeast. “This is the very beginning of a strong expansion for us,” he said.
Westlake said the company has been more focused on diversifying its product lineup, such as capital markets and wealth management, than making acquisitions for its retail bank. It has had major management changes, naming former Wachovia Corp. executive Reggie Davis president in September and replacing Scott Custer with Westlake a month later.
RBC’s U.S. retail branch network now extends across Florida, Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina, but it has also suffered through the financial meltdown because of strong exposure to the U.S. real estate market.
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