Business News

Volatility Will Continue in 2010, China Not Immune: Ping An Chief

Volatility in the financial markets is expected to continue into 2010, but to a lesser extent, said Louis Cheung, group president of China's Ping An Insurance. However, he said despite a strong recovery in the domestic economy, China would not be immune to the global market turbulence.

"We would expect some volatility although probably not as severe as before, to continue well into next year," Cheung said in an exclusive interview with CNBC Asia Pacific.

"China, in itself, is doing quite well but with the backdrop of the global economy and the linkage of many aspects of the Chinese economy to the rest of the world, China will not be immune to that."

Volatility Will Continue in 2010: Ping An Chief

Cheung, however, noted that the market volatility in 2009 has proven to be beneficial for the insurer as they had practiced caution in their allocations.

"We've been able to generate some decent returns in part of the volatility, and that has helped to strengthen our reserves as well, after incurring some of the losses last year. So overall, it's looking good for us," he added.

Ping An, China's second-largest life insurer by premiums, returned to the black in the third quarter with a profit of US$378 million after being hurt last year from its ill-timed investment in Belgium's Fortis.

"Right now, we are seeing some stabilizing of the remaining businesses in Fortis -- the share prices have come back quite significantly, so we would be holding on to it...and helping the company to work out the next phase of strategy, and to ensure that all shareholders would be working together at the board level to support it, to execute a new plan," Cheung said.

The Chinese insurer had to write down a massive portion of its investment in Fortis in the second half of 2008, as the former financial-services giant fell victim to the global financial crisis and was carved up by the Belgian, Dutch and Luxembourg governments.

Since then, Ping An has renewed its focus on growing its business at home.

"So far this year, I think it's been developing better than expected for us. We've been having 35-40 percent growth almost across the board, across most of our businesses. And no doubt the economy is holding up very well indeed and recovery is looking rather solid right now. Therefore, we would expect to be able to continue our growth momentum quite nicely in next few quarters," said Cheung.