NU Online News Service, Aug 2, 2004, 5:20 p.m. EDT

Occum Acquisition Corp., an investment group that includes Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., Omaha, has completed plans to acquire the life insurance operations of Safeco Corp., Seattle.[@@]

The deal includes Safeco Life Insurance Company and Safeco National Life Insurance Company.

In addition to Berkshire Hathaway, major Occum investors include White Mountains Insurance Group Ltd., Hamilton, Bermuda.

Occum has agreed to keep Safeco Life’s 1,500 employees in Washington state, according to Mike Kreidler, the state’s insurance commissioner.

The net loss on the life deal and a related, $160 million sale of the Talbot Financial life brokerage unit will be about $260 million after taxes, Safeco says.

Safeco says it agreed to the deals because it wants to focus on its property-casualty operations. The company is keeping $150 million in deal proceeds for general corporate purposes, using $710 million to retire debt and capital securities and paying $620 million to shareholders by buying back 13.2 million shares of common stock.

Safeco says it chose to buy back stock rather than issue a special dividend because a special dividend might cause tax problems for some shareholders.