Business

Pru's fears for British investment

  • 13 March 2012
  • From the section Business
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You might think the Arsenal-supporting chief executive of the Prudential has nothing much to complain about.

Arsenal snatched victory last night in the 95th minute. And the 160 year-old insurer, that specialises in savings, has announced a sharp increase in profits and the value of assets, its share price is up and the group has none of the post-crisis structural challenges of its City colleagues the banks.

But Tidjane Thiam is a worried man: he fears that new rules emanating from Brussels, that go by the unappetising name of Solvency ll, will damage the value of millions of British people's pension savings and make it prohibitively expensive for the Pru to keep its home in Britain.

The problem with these rules, he says, is that they force the Pru, other life insurers and pension schemes to make sure they have enough capital to protect themselves against sharp falls in the market value of their assets, even though their liabilities stretch out over 25 years.

The rules would both force the Pru to hold more expensive capital and discourage it and other institutions like the Pru from making long-term investments. So they would make fewer long-term loans to big companies (they would cut their holdings of corporate bonds) and would invest less in British infrastructure.

If this doesn't sound good for the UK, Mr Thiam would agree.

But the Pru does not have to lie down and take it.

Its most profitable business is now in Asia (where Indonesia is doing particularly well for the Pru). And the Pru could escape the worst effects of Solvency ll by relocating to Asia - which Mr Thiam confirms that the board is actively considering.

Were the Pru to move abroad, that would protect their substantial US business from becoming seriously uncompetitive as a consequence of Solvency ll. Which is probably the main spur to this symbolically significant potential break with a country where the Pru has been a pillar of the financial establishment since the last time there was a British queen who celebrated a diamond jubilee.

But there would be no protecting British savers, whose pensions would be damaged by the Brussels rules, wherever the Pru ends up - unless those rules are reformed before implementation in 2014.