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China approves 2 new insurers; Moody's lowers outlook on Japan's life sector

S&P Global Market Intelligence offers our top picks of insurance news stories and more published throughout the week. Please note that some entries may have links to third-party sources that may require a subscription.

New players entering China's insurance market

* Chinese state-owned conglomerate China Merchants Group received a life insurance license from the China Insurance Regulatory Commission. The group's new life insurance company, China Merchants RenHe Life Insurance Co. Ltd., will be based in Shenzhen with a registered capital of 5 billion yuan. The group is also applying for a license to conduct P&C business.

* Qianhai Reinsurance Co. Ltd. received approval from China's insurance regulator to officially launch operations. The Shenzhen-based reinsurance company has registered capital of 3 billion yuan.

Rating agencies take action

* Moody's Japan K.K. lowered the outlook on the Japanese life insurance industry to negative from stable. The lowered outlook reflects expectations that the industry's credit profile over the next 12 to 18 months will be pressured by a persistent ultralow interest rate environment.

* S&P Global Ratings lowered its outlook on Sumitomo Life Insurance Co. to stable from positive due to a larger-than-expected negative impact from its acquisition of U.S.-based Symetra Financial Corp. and the difficult operating environment in Japan.

In other news

* State Bank of India could sell up to a 5% stake in SBI Life Insurance Co. Ltd. by December, according to the life insurance unit's managing director, Arjit Basu. If the stake sale does not happen by December, it will certainly be done by the end of March 2017, Basu said. The bank owns a 74% stake in SBI Life Insurance.

* A magnitude 7.8 earthquake in New Zealand was one of the most expensive natural catastrophes in November, according to the latest Global Catastrophe Recap report by Aon Benfield's Impact Forecasting. Damage from the quake is estimated to be between NZ$3.0 billion and NZ$8 billion, according to the Reserve Bank of New Zealand. Insured losses are estimated to be between NZ$1 billion and NZ$5 billion.

* Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Co. Ltd. will start offering a new insurance product that covers litigation risks from investors that have bought investment products. The insurer will start offering the product from January 2017 and will market it to regional banks and shinkin banks.

* CNinsure Inc. changed its name to Fanhua Inc. to reflect the company's business direction and its expansion beyond insurance distribution.

Featured on S&P Global Market Intelligence

Chinese regulators exert pressure on insurers' investment strategy: China's insurance and securities regulators are taking a tougher stance on the aggressive investment strategies of China's insurance companies. Liu Shiyu, chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, described some asset managers as "noxious" for their stake buyouts using questionable funds for leveraged acquisitions.

Japan's life insurers cautious on yen decline over US policy uncertainty: Japan's major life insurers have remained cautious in the face of uncertainty arising from U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's economic policies and have maintained their profit forecasts in the current fiscal year. Most of Japan's nine major life insurers are keeping their forecasts for lower profits and thinner margins in the year ending March 31, 2017, unchanged, despite a drop in the yen's value.

S&P Global Ratings and S&P Global Market Intelligence are owned by S&P Global Inc.