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Private equity eyeing 'problematic' LTC, annuities blocks, says Athene president

Interest in purchasing closed-block annuities and long-term care blocks is mounting among private equity firms, according to a top Athene Holding Ltd. executive.

"I think you're going to see more transactions like this, not just by Apollo or Athene, but by other private equity firms because they have all decided they want to get in this business," President William Wheeler said at an S&P Global Market Intelligence insurance M&A conference.

Insurance regulators want "problematic" business blocks like long-term care and variable annuities to be fixed, said Wheeler, and so are becoming increasingly supportive of new sources of capital. Wheeler cited the five months it took to get Athene's deal with Voya Financial Inc. to reinsure $19 billion of fixed-indexed annuities approved as an example of regulators being keen on addressing problem business blocks.

That transaction was administered by Venerable Holdings Inc., an investment vehicle owned by a consortium of investors including Apollo Global Management LLC.

Wheeler's latest comments come just months after executives on an earnings call said Athene has an appetite for more "Voya-like" transactions in long-term care, affirming the company's unconventional insurance investment strategy.

He also said the life insurance industry needs to continue to "restructure" problematic assets and predicted there will be more divestitures of beleaguered long-term care businesses.

"I oftentimes say, where are we in the 'great life insurance balance sheet restructuring,'" Wheeler said. "I think we're in the middle innings ... but it's moving forward."