NU Online News Service, Jan. 13, 2004, 3:32 p.m. EST – Insurance companies announced 83 mergers and acquisitions in the fourth quarter, down from 88 in the fourth quarter of 2002, according to SNL Financial L.C., Charlottesville, Va.[@@]

But total insurance deal value soared to $38 billion, from $1.5 billion for the comparable quarter in 2002, thanks to the announcement of 2 major deals: the offer of $16 billion for WellPoint Health Networks Inc., Thousand Oaks, Calif., by Anthem Inc., Indianapolis, and the offer of $16 billion for Travelers Property Casualty Corp., Hartford, by St. Paul Companies Inc., St. Paul, Minn.

Insurance company acquirers have been paying an average of 251% of the target’s book value.

The ratio is up sharply from a ratio of 119% for the fourth quarter of 2002 and a ratio of 96% for the fourth quarter of 2001.