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MetLife starting new asset management business

NEW YORK -- MetLife rolled out an asset management business focused on real estate and private-placement debt, hoping to draw yield-starved institutional investors to areas where it already has considerable experience.

The life insurer said its MetLife Investment Management business will cater to insurance companies, pension plans and other large investors with the promise of better long-term returns than are available elsewhere.

The launch, coming at a time when investors remain stymied by low interest rates, follows what MetLife said was an extensive study of market opportunities and research with investors, consultants and others.

MetLife's chief investment officer, Steven Goulart, said the New York company has the talent, scale, reputation and in-market presence to acquire the assets necessary to deliver strong returns.

"The strong demand for high quality private assets among institutional investors makes this an attractive time for market entry," he said in a statement.

The company holds a $43 billion real-estate loan portfolio and manages $10 billion in direct equity real-estate investments, including office, apartment, retail, industrial and hotel properties. It also manages about $50 billion in private-placement assets and originated $8.8 billion in private placements in 2011.

MetLife Inc. made some organizational changes in connection with the new initiative.

Its real estate group is being renamed MetLife Real Estate Investors and will be led by Robert Merck, the global head of real estate investments. It will include a real estate equity strategies group led by Mark Wilsmann and a real estate debt strategies group headed by Brian Casey.

In expanding its real estate platform for third-party investors, the company said it will make its portfolio management approach more client-centric, with professionals in marketing and investor relations, research, client reporting, acquisitions and asset management.

The private placement debt organization, renamed MetLife Private Capital Investors, will be headed by MetLife's global head of private securities, Scott Inglis.

It will originate and manage a broad variety of investments, including corporate private debt, project finance and infrastructure debt, and equity in renewable energy.

"As pension plans de-risk their portfolios and increasingly move toward liability-driven investment strategies, we anticipate strong investor demand for these private fixed income asset sectors, which often feature attractive risk-return profiles compared to public bonds" Inglis said.

The company said it intends to add jobs in marketing and investor relations, portfolio management and client reporting as part of the expansion of MetLife Private Capital Investors.

MetLife shares fell 17 cents to $35.06 in afternoon trading.