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MENAFN - Times of Oman - 30/03/2010

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(MENAFN - Times of Oman) Oman National Investment Corporation Holding SAOG (ONIC) is looking for strategic acquisitions in Oman and the GCC region to strengthen its position in the insurance sector, its group chief executive said.

"As a holding company, we are always looking for opportunities both within and outside Oman," said Sayyida Rawan Ahmed Al Said. Revenues from the insurance units of ONIC accounted for the bulk of its turnover at present while income from its associates and investment income from its market portfolio make up for the balance.

ONIC's equity market portfolio is around RO12 million and generated an overall return of over 35 per cent in 2009, she said. The portfolio is predominantly invested in the GCC with a small amount outside including that in India.

"Given the fact that oil prices are above the 70 per barrel range, we feel that the GCC economies should witness continued growth momentum," she added. Crude oil prices were hovering around 80 per barrel on Monday. Investment expenditure and government support will be the key drivers for our markets, she added.

ONIC would continue to focus on its core business of insurance since the insurance industry in Oman is expected to grow by 15 per cent while the GCC, as a region, also has good potential, Al Said said.

"We will focus on the insurance sector for strategic acquisitions and will continue to focus on this region for both organic and inorganic growth as we believe in the region's fundamentals," she said in an e-mailed reply to a questionnaire.

Earlier this year, ONIC entered into an agreement with the Middle East unit of British insurer RSA Group, under which RSA Oman would acquir Al Ahlia Insurance Company from ONIC Holding while the latter acquired a 20.03 per cent stake in RSA Oman. RSA Group holds 50.01 per cent in its Middle East unit which, in turn, holds 69 per cent in RSA Oman.

ONIC would now work towards optimising the synergies between the two insurance firms in Oman but an immediate merger between Al Ahlia and RSA Oman were not on the cards owing to different business models of the two firms, she said."We see enormous synergies going forward given the brand name, network, management and Omani workforce of Al Ahlia," the official said. Al-Ahlia earned a gross premium income of over RO27 million in 2009 with motor insurance playing a key role in its premium income even though it also faced a high claim ratio in motor insurance.

ONIC, in which Dubai Financial is the largest shareholder with about 41.1 per cent stake, may consider setting up its own asset management company in future to leverage its experience in managing strategic as well as equity market portfolio, the official said. It, however, has no plans to actively enter into commercial banking, she added.

The predominantly financial services holding company operates two insurance firms as subsidiaries and has several affiliates within Oman as well as overseas such as Canada, Pakistan and Bahrain, according to information published on its website.It also holds 15.83 per cent stake in Oman Chlorine, a downstream player in the oil and gas sector. "It is performing well and we will consider unlocking value at a suitable time like all other investments in our portfolio," she said when asked about the management's plans about its investment in the firm.


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