Sumitomo Marine & Fire Insurance and Mitsui Marine & Fire Insurance have agreed to merge by April 1, 2002, in a move that would create Japan
's largest non-life insurer. With combined assets of $51.7 billion, the merged company would outstrip current industry leader Tokio Marine & Fire Insurance, whose assets stand at $48.5 billion. Mitsui Marine is Japan's third largest non-life insurer, and Sumitomo Marine the fourth biggest.
Analysts say the merger is set to accelerate consolidation in the sector, where competition is intensifying due mainly to the deregulation of insurance premiums in July 1998.
Sumitomo Marine and Mitsui Marine said
they will unveil a detailed merger plan in March.
Both companies had said two weeks ago that they were in talks on forming an alliance. Mitsui Marine said then it had decided to pull out of a planned three-way merger, unveiled last October, with Koa Fire & Marine Insurance and Nippon Fire & Marine Insurance. Mitsui instead announced an agreement with Sumitomo Marine to seek an alliance. Analysts say attention is now focused on a possible reaction from the industry's top two players - Tokio Marine & Fire Insurance and Yasuda Fire & Marine Insurance. Koa Fire, ranked eighth in Japan, and Nippon Fire, ranked fifth, said they will continue merger talks and seek another partner. On Tuesday, medium-sized non-life insurer Dowa Fire & Marine Insurance, in which Japan's top life insurer Nippon Life Insurance holds a stake of about 20 percent, said it will merge with Nissay General Insurance, Nippon Life's wholly-owned unit, on April 1 next year. Then on Wednesday, a leading Japanese financial daily said Dai-Tokyo Fire & Marine Insurance, Japan's seventh largest non-life insurer, and Chiyoda Fire & Marine Insurance, ranked ninth, are in talks to merge. Both companies denied the report but said they were considering alliances with other companies to bolster their competitiveness. Analysts say news of an alliance between Mitsui Marine and Sumitomo Marine has sent a ripple through the industry not only because it will create Japan's largest non-life insurer but also because Sumitomo Marine will
Sumitomo Marine is considered among the most efficient and profitable companies in the sector.
"Any merger with Sumitomo will be extremely positive," a senior analyst said on Friday before the announcement, adding that it will surely prompt Tokio Marine and Yasuda Fire to react.