SYDNEY - Australian wealth manager AMP Ltd has let its exclusive deal with French insurer AXA SA expire for a joint $11 billion buy of AXA Asia Pacific Holdings, paving the way for rival bidder National Australia Bank to start talks with the French.
Separately, a media report said on Monday that NAB CEO Cameron Clyne has led a team to France to start talks with AXA to implement its $11.5 billion proposal, that has already won approval from the independent directors of AXA Asia Pacific.
A spokesman for AXA declined to comment on the report or on the timing of possible talks with NAB on Monday. A NAB spokesman also had declined to comment.
AMP said in a statement on Monday that it would continue to consider its position with respect to AXA Asia Pacific. AMP's exclusive agreement with AXA expired on Saturday. Last week Reuters citing sources had said AMP would not seek to extend talks.
As the agreement has terminated, AXA SA is no longer an associate of AMP and therefore AMP is no longer a substantial holder in AXA Asia Pacific Holdings Ltd, AMP said in a statement on Monday.
Sydney Morning Herald said in an unsourced report that NAB's chief executive Cameron Clyne along with several board members boarded a plane from Melboure to Charles de Gaulle airport with the intention of dealing directly with AXA SA CEO Henri de Castries.
NAB, Australia's top lender, trumped AMP's offer with an all-cash alternative.
Both proposals hinge on AXA SA agreeing to buy AXA Asia Pacific's Asian businesses, and approval from Australia's competition watchdog -- a major hurdle in a market where the government is nervous about the power of big banks.
The competition watchdog is expected release its findings on AMP/AXA SA's bid on February 10 and NAB's offer on March 18.
AMP and NAB went after AXA's Australia business late last year, eyeing a larger share of Australia's $900 billion wealth management industry, which promises to grow faster as the population ages and as the government considers raising compulsory retirement savings.
While a deal is one of the last remaining consolidation opportunities in the Australian financial services sector, for AXA SA it gives full control of the Asian business.
Winning AXA AP would put NAB on track to be the country's top player in banking, insurance and wealth.
(Reporting by Narayanan Somasundaram; Editing by Denny Thomas and Hans Peters)