January 24, 2020 / 7:48 AM / a month ago

UPDATE 2-Helvetia to grow insurance presence with majority stake in Spain's Caser

* Helvetia seeking to expand beyond Switzerland

* Deal could close during first half of year

* Regulatory approval needed (Adds detail from Spanish sellers)

ZURICH/MADRID, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Swiss insurer Helvetia has agreed to buy up to 70% of Spanish insurer Caser for 780 million euros ($865 million) from Spanish banks and from French insurer Covea as it seeks to expand beyond Switzerland, it said on Friday.

Helvetia has reached an agreement with various shareholders to buy their equity and other shareholders have an option to sell their shares to the firm on the same conditions, which is expected to give the insurer 70% of Caser.

Holders of the remaining 30% will have strategic importance as distribution partners, Helvetia said.

Spanish banks Bankia, Liberbank and Ibercaja also said in separate statements they had agreed to sell respectively 15%, 2.23%, and 4.45% in Caser for 166 million euros, 25.7 million euros and 51 million euros.

The deal values Caser at 1.1 billion euros in total.

French insurer Covea will also divest its 20% stake, sources close to the operation, who declined to be named, said.

Spanish lenders BBVA, Caixabank, Abanca, Caixa Pollenca and Caixa Ontinyent also agreed to sell minority stakes, one of the sources said.

Ultimately, Unicaja, Liberbank and Ibercaja would keep around 10% in Caser each, the sources said.

Caser, which generated revenues of 1.639 billion euros in 2018, will immediately make a significant profit contribution, the Swiss company said.

Helvetia reported a 29.4% increase in its results after tax to 289.7 million Swiss francs ($299.43 million) for the first half of 2019. It reports full-year results on March 4.

The transaction is expected to be closed during the first half of the year after Helvetia secures regulatory approvals.

($1 = 0.9014 euros)

$1 = 0.9675 Swiss francs Reporting by Silke Koltrowitz, Jesus Aguado and Inti Landauro; Editing by Michael Shields, Jan Harvey and Barbara Lewis

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