HSBC Holdings Plc has paid around $254 million for 10 percent of Bao Viet to become the sole foreign investor in Vietnam's largest insurance firm, officials from the Vietnamese company said on Thursday.

Vietnam's insurance sector has grown rapidly in recent years, reflecting the country's robust growth of more than 8 percent in 2005 and 2006.

Bao Viet Chairman Le Quang Binh said a further 3.56 percent stake had been sold to state-run shipbuilder Vinashin for about $90 million.

Bao Viet's share prices in the two deals averaged about 71,900 dong ($4.4), company officials said. Dealers said that shares in the unlisted group are being traded at about 65,000 dong ($4.0) each on the unofficial markets.

HSBC Insurance with its vast experience and staunch commitment to help Bao Viet will elevate Bao Viet to a global level, Binh told a signing ceremony in Hanoi.

The deal between HSBC and Bao Viet, formally known as the Vietnam Insurance Corporation, was advised on by Credit Suisse.

Bao Viet's new registered capital would be 5.73 trillion dong ($354 million), Binh said.

Bao Viet should have plans to list on the stock market in Vietnam and markets overseas as well, Finance Minister Vu Van Ninh said in a speech at the ceremony.

The Hanoi-based insurance group has said it planned to list on the Hanoi stock exchange by 2009.

It forecast net profit this year to climb 64.3 percent to 524 billion dong ($32.4 million) as it expands into banking, fund management and real estate.

Bao Viet had said it would offer 18 percent of its shares to foreign investors. Under Vietnamese law, foreign investors can own 30 percent of Bao Viet, but it was unclear if HSBC Insurance had any immediate plans to raise its stake.

The state retains a 77.54 percent stake in the firm.

Bao Viet said revenue in the January-July period was more than 4.2 trillion dong -- or 58 percent of its target for the whole of 2007.

Non-life insurance premiums in the period rose 13 percent from the previous year to 1.26 trillion dong, while life insurance premiums firmed 5 percent to 1.87 trillion dong. (Additional reporting by Ho Binh Minh)