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China names head of new financial regulator; Japan insurers to merge pension ops

GREATER CHINA

* Fitch Ratings affirmed China's long-term foreign-currency issuer default rating at A+ citing the country's strong external finances, stable growth and low inflation. The rating agency, however, warned that mounting trade tensions with the U.S. could dampen its baseline outlook on China. The outlook on the rating is stable.

* China appointed Guo Shuqing as chairman of the newly established China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission, Reuters reported, citing financial publication Caixin. Guo had served as chairman of the China Banking Regulatory Commission for over a year. All seven incumbent vice chairmen of both the former banking regulator and the China Insurance Regulatory Commission will remain in their posts.

* China is allowing foreign investors to access its payments market as part of efforts to further open up the financial sector, Bloomberg News reported. The People's Bank of China has asked foreign investors to start applying for payment licenses, saying foreign players will be treated the same as local companies.

* The China Banking Regulatory Commission issued guidance on the management of bank employees, and asked companies to establish a report system on improper behavior, the commission said in a statement.

* U.K.-based Prudential PLC plans to focus on the Hong Kong market after sales to customers in China dropped 20% in 2017, the South China Morning Post reported, citing Nic Nicandrou, CEO of Prudential Corp. Asia Ltd. Insurance sales to Chinese clients visiting Hong Kong fell following China's cracked down on insurance purchases outside the mainland for fear that it was aiding capital flight. Still, Prudential has retained a 27% market share for sales to Chinese customers in Hong Kong over the last four to five years, the publication noted.

JAPAN AND KOREA

* Japan's Nippon Life Insurance Co. and Dai-ichi Life Insurance Co. Ltd. will merge their corporate pension joint venture with another pension service company owned by Sumitomo Life Insurance Co., Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance Co., Mitsui Life Insurance Co. Ltd. and Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance Co., Tokyo's The Nikkei reported. Corporate-Pension Business Service, a joint venture between Nippon Life and Dai-ichi Life, will acquire Japan Pension Service Co. and will become the surviving entity following the merger. The scheme will happen in stages and is expected to be completed by 2023.

* Japan's Rakuten Inc. will buy a small nonlife insurance company offering short-term insurance products as early as March as part of a plan to market pet insurance on its e-commerce platform, The Nikkei reported. Rakuten is planning to launch a full-scale nonlife insurance business in 2018 to take advantage of its 95 million e-commerce customers. The company earlier completed its tender offer for the shares of nonlife insurer Asahi Fire & Marine Insurance Co. Ltd.

* South Korea's Financial Services Commission will make routine corporate governance disclosures mandatory for large listed companies with assets of 2 trillion won or more, beginning 2019, The Financial News reported.

* South Korean prosecutors investigating hiring irregularities at KB Kookmin Bank found evidence of favoritism for male job applicants in violation of the country's equal employment opportunity law, Money Today reported.

* Samsung Securities Co. Ltd. appointed Koo Sung-hoon as its new CEO, replacing Yoon Yong-am, The Seoul Economic Daily reported. Koo is the former CEO of Samsung Asset Management Co. Ltd.

* Mirae Asset Daewoo Co. Ltd. plans to raise up to 500 billion South Korean won from a domestic bond offering scheduled for April 27, The Financial News reported.

ASEAN

* Indonesian banks, including large state-owned lenders PT Bank BNI Syariah and PT Bank Mandiri (Persero) Tbk, are monitoring their payment systems after unknown withdrawals were made from PT Bank Rakyat Indonesia (Persero) Tbk's ATMs, ANTARA News reported. Investigators revealed that a network involving suspects from different countries could be involved in the attacks, and is also targeting foreign banks.

* Meanwhile, PT Bank Mandiri (Persero) Tbk has reported an increase in the number of skimming cases, which now affects 140 customers, with losses reaching about 260 million rupiah, Bisnis Indonesia reported.

* PT Bank Mandiri (Persero) Tbk appointed Agus Dwi Handaya, Panji Irawan, Alexandra Askandar and Donsuwan Simatupang as new directors for the 2018-2023 period, Bisnis Indonesia reported.

* Bank of Ayudhya PCL launched a blockchain-based supply chain financing service where customers can seek credit conveniently at greater speed and safety, Thailand's Krungthep Turakij reported.

* The State Bank of Vietnam issued a new regulation allowing the central bank to take early intervention measures against weak credit institutions, Viet Nam News reported. The new regulation will take effect July 1 and is expected to help the country's banking regulations gradually match international rules.

SOUTH ASIA

* ICICI Securities Ltd. allotted 17.18 billion Indian rupees of shares to anchor investors prior to the opening of its IPO, The Economic Times reported. The IPO will open March 22 and will close March 26. The company has set a price range of 519 to 520 rupees per share for the offering, and hopes to raise up to 40 billion rupees.

* A bank consortium led by State Bank of India filed charges against Indian jewelry manufacturer Kanishk Gold for swindling lenders out of up to 8.24 billion rupees by the end of 2017, The Economic Times reported. The 13-member lender consortium had declared the accounts of the company as nonperforming between May 2017 and July 2017. It later declared the accounts fraudulent between November 2017 and January 2018.

* State-owned Bank of India closed its representative office in Yangon, Myanmar, effective Jan. 19. The bank said in a statement that it received approval from Myanmar's local authorities for the office closure.

* The Nepal Rastra Bank is considering allowing commercial banks to acquire loans from foreign financial institutions to replenish their stock of loanable funds, The Kathmandu Post reported, citing a spokesperson from the central bank. The central bank is planning to formulate a guideline on the matter, and is studying if it should create a threshold for banks' foreign borrowing.

AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND

* National Australia Bank Ltd. engaged in preliminary talks to sell its wealth funds management businesses to Japan's Nippon Life Insurance., The Australian Financial Review's Street Talk blog reported. The Australian bank had been looking to spin off its funds management business MLC and broking and advice arm JBWere as part of a strategic review.

* An inquiry into Australia's financial sector has turned its attention to Westpac Banking Corp. for approving car loan applications with no expense information, Reuters reported. The banking royal commission heard that the bank approved loans to customers which they could not repay. The commission also heard that Westpac was paying "flex commissions" to dealerships, which earn higher commissions if they sign customers to higher interest loans.

* The Reserve Bank of New Zealand kept its official cash rate at 1.75%, as global economic growth continues to gradually improve.

IN OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD

Middle East & Africa: Ghana's uniBank placed in administration; FAB gets nod for Saudi commercial biz

Europe: Lloyd's of London, Alpha Bank post losses; Axa ups stake in German insurer

Latin America: Chile, Colombia maintain rates; Moody's ups BTG Pactual

North America: National Commerce to buy Florida bank; FOMC likely to raise rates

North America Insurance: Insurers eyeing cover for driverless cars; insurance M&A to accelerate globally

Janna Estares, Sally Wang, Jonathan Cheah, Jaekwon Lim and Santibhap Ussavasodhi contributed to this report.

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