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Analysts: Insurers Might Want Neuberger

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Insurers with capital might have an interest in acquiring a large minority stake in a key Lehman Brothers Inc. asset management unit.

Credit analysts and other industry experts say the main obstacle insurance industry acquirers would face would be finding a way to pay for a stake in the unit, Neuberger Berman, New York, during a time of economic turbulence.

Neuberger Berman is managing about $1.2 billion in assets for wealthy individuals, wealthy families and institutions.

Lehman, New York, which is expecting to report a $3.9 billion third-quarter net loss, said Wednesday it wants to improve its finances by selling part of the unit.

Lehman says it is in advanced talks “with a number of potential partners” that want to buy a stake in Neuberger Berman.

Neuberger Berman would continue to operate under the Lehman Brothers and Neuberger Berman brands, and clients would continue to have access to all of the capabilities of the firm, Lehman says.

Many financial services companies would prefer to own Neuberger Berman outright, to use the firm to strengthen their own asset management operations, says Joel Levine, a senior vice president with Moody’s Investors Service, New York.

Any insurer taking a minority stake in Neuberger Berman may find that the arrangement would work better as an investment, Levine says.

Asset management businesses can have returns on equity in the 20% range, compared with ROEs of 11% to 14% for life insurers, Levine notes.

But Levine notes that some insurers, such as Phoenix Companies Inc., Hartford, that once emphasized asset management operations now are streamlining their operations and focusing on their life insurance business.

Under current conditions, owning an asset manager could increase an insurer’s volatility if the asset manager owns products such as foundering asset-backed securities or has to support faltering money market funds, Levine says.

Neuberger Berman has a good performance track record and a strong brand name, and that means keeping the Neuberger Berman brand name would be a good decision for an acquirer to make, according to Fred Townsend, president of the Townsend Independent Actuarial Research Alliance, Wolcott, Conn.

One challenge is that using debt to finance the purchase of a Neuberger Berman stake could hurt an insurer’s ratings, says Doug Meyer, a managing director with Fitch Ratings, Chicago.

“Given the timing of this matter, those companies with ready access to capital will have a leg up on the bidding,” Meyer says.


CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article gave an incorrect description of how much of a Neuberger Berman stake that Lehman wants to sell.


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