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LONDON, March 14 (Reuters) - Prudential is to spin its British and European business off from its international operations, breaking up the 170-year-old insurer in the latest shake-up in a fast-changing industry.
Insurers in Britain have been changing strategy to reduce exposure to capital-heavy products following the introduction of rigorous European solvency rules two years ago, while also seeking ways to deal with growing pressure on fees.
Prudential said on Wednesday it is splitting off its savings and investment-focused business M&G Prudential, which will be headquartered in London.
That will leave Prudential plc focused on Asia, the United States and Africa. It will also remain headquartered and listed in London and be led by present chief executive Mike Wells.
"We're not looking to get rid of all of our capital-intensive products, we're looking to grow the piece that's capital-light," Wells told Reuters, adding that the M&G Prudential business "is better off standalone, competing domestically for people, for capital".
Once the proposed split is complete, Prudential said it expects both companies to be big enough to feature on Britain's benchmark FTSE 100 stock index.
John Foley, who heads M&G Prudential, will steer that business through the demerger and investors will hold shares in both at the end of the process.
The industry is wrestling with the rising cost of regulation and pressure on fund management fees and Prudential's move follows Standard Life's merger with Aberdeen Asset Management in 2017 which led to the sale of the bulk of its insurance business to Phoenix Group last month.
Anglo-South African financial services group Old Mutual is also in the midst of a four-way split.
As well as the demerger, Prudential disclosed the sale of a 12 billion-pound UK annuities book to Rothesay Life and posted results for 2017, which showed a 6 percent rise in operating profit to 4.7 billion pounds, beating market expectations of 4.6 billion pounds.
Prudential, which said in August that it was embarking on a restructuring that would see it combine its M&G asset management and UK and European insurance businesses, said the timing of the spin-off has not yet been set and would depend on a range of factors, including completion of the Rothesay Life deal.
Analysts at JPMorgan said it was too soon to conclude whether the planned demerger "will be a straightforward positive or not", reiterating their neutral rating on the stock.
Prudential's shares were up 5.4 percent to 19.25 pounds at 0841 GMT, taking it to the top of the FTSE 100 index.
(Reporting by Ben Martin, additional reporting by Noor Zainab Hussain, editing by Sinead Cruise and Alexander Smith)