AGEAS (ISIN BE0974264930) – Potential litigation play ?

The company:

Ageas is a Belgium based insurance company and formerly known as “Fortis”, one of the biggest Eurpoean casualties of the financial crisis. Fortis, together with RBS and Santander tried to take over ABN Amro but especially Fortis then failed spectacularily and was saved by the Belgian Government and finally sliced and diced into Insurance and Banking, of which the banking part was sold to BNP Paribas.

Ageas itself is an interesting case, similar to NN Group, it is a strange collection of Belgium, UK, and Asian insurance companies plus some weird stuff at corporate level, resulting from the quite ugly split of a combined group into two separate businesses. However, a lot of the ugly stuff has already been cleared over the last few years and Ageas was looking like an almost “Normal” insurance company

The litigation

A few weeks ago, a Dutch court decided that Ageas is liable for misinforming Fortis shareholders in 2008:

The Amsterdam Appeals Court ruled that Fortis is liable for misleading investors by saying the firm was “financially stronger than ever” after a government bailout on Sept. 28, 2008, only to be replaced by a break-up plan five days later.

and further down:

Ageas should be able to meet a worst-case liability of 2.5 billion euros before taxes possibly stemming from the ruling, Matthias De Wit, a Brussels-based analyst at KBC, said in a note today. Still, potential indirect effects shouldn’t be ignored, he said.

Looking at the stockprice, we can estimate that the stock lost ~ 5 EUR per share:

With about 230 mn shares outstanding, the market seems to have implied ~ 1,1 bn EUR loss after tax. Ageas itself has provisioned around 130 mn EUR against this case.

Is this interesting ?

At the moment, it is hard to say. Ageas trades at ~0,62 times book value, which is relatively cheap. They are very active in repurchasing shares (sharecount decreased by -115 since 2011). I do like the insurance sector at the moment because its cheap and the problems (low interest rates etc.) are well known.

Insurance companies do have traditionally very good lawyers on their payroll and litigation is part of their business, so one can assume that they handle this very professionally. On the other hand, other than the CIR Spa case, there is no direct catalyst as the law suit can linger on quite some time.

Valuation wise, Ageas look similar to NN Group, actually, I could easily see those two Groups merging at some point in the future. My guess is that someone is maybe already working on the idea to form a strong Benelux players out of the available mid size companies (Delta lloyd, NN Group, Ageas, SNS).

Nevertheless, I do not think that AGEAS is a “Litigation play” at the moment, as I don’t have a good idea on the time line of the law suit. However it it looks like a pretty cheap insruance company with some upside potential, so I will keep it on my watchlist.

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