A bet on China is paying off for AXA. Last fall, Europe’s second-largest insurer struck a partnership with the financial giant Industrial & Commercial Bank of China. Since then, premiums have taken off for the French company, which now ranks as the largest foreign player in China’s life insurance market. The uptick in Asia comes at a good time for the company, which has struggled in Europe and the U.S. And like other insurers, continued low interest rates have held down AXA’s earnings.
Earlier this year, AXA announced plans to cut an additional $260 million in costs by the end of 2015. In April, it struck a deal to sell its MONY Life Insurance group to Birmingham, Alabama-based Protective, for $1 billion. AXA bought the division for $1.5 billion back in 2004. It also sold a majority stake in its private equity division. The result: After falling last year, the company’s earnings rose a modest 3% in the first three months of this year.
The market seem convinced a turnaround is in the works. AXA’s shares are up 60% in the past year. The question is with China slowing, are investors being overly optimistic? Rising interest rates and improvements in European economies could offset that exuberance.
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