Berkshire Hathaway in talks to buy a stake in Latin America’s biggest reinsurer

Gaining Berkshire’s backing would be seen as a stamp of approval for IRB. Buffett’s renown as one of the world’s savviest investors often sends shares of a company higher after he invests. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)
Gaining Berkshire’s backing would be seen as a stamp of approval for IRB. Buffett’s renown as one of the world’s savviest investors often sends shares of a company higher after he invests. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)

(Bloomberg) — Berkshire Hathaway Inc., the firm run by billionaire investor Warren Buffett, is in talks to buy a stake in Latin America’s biggest reinsurer, IRB Brasil Resseguros SA, after an initial public offering of stock, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter.

No deal is likely to be completed before July 27, IRB’s IPO pricing date, the people said, asking not to be named because the discussions are private. The acquisition could be made through Berkshire’s General Re unit, they said. JPMorgan Chase & Co. is advising Rio de Janeiro-based IRB, according to the people.

Sellers include Brazilian government

Current shareholders will sell stakes in the IPO, which may raise as much as 2.9 billion reais ($920 million). Sellers include the Brazilian government, which holds 27%; insurers BB Seguridade Participacoes SA and Bradesco Seguros SA, which each own 20.4%, and Itau Unibanco Holding SA, holder of about 15%.

Related: Insurance industry looks for M&A deals in 2017

Gaining Berkshire’s backing would be seen as a stamp of approval for IRB. Buffett’s renown as one of the world’s savviest investors often sends shares of a company higher after he invests. Even so, Buffett has said he avoids buying shares during public offerings because it’s hard to get a bargain. In 2014, he told Fox Business Network that he couldn’t recall participating in an IPO in the last five decades. 

Buffett and a spokeswoman for Gen Re didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment. Representatives for IRB and JPMorgan declined to comment.

Deal for Buffett after IPO?

Buffett may have an opportunity for a deal after the IPO, as Brazil’s government seeks to fill its coffers. Policy makers have struggled to meet budget goals and were forced to raise taxes on gasoline, diesel and ethanol last week.

The government expects to have a 17% IRB stake after the IPO and will keep its “golden share” that gives it veto rights in matters involving the company. All shareholders, including government-owned pension funds Previ and Funcef, plan to keep smaller stakes after the share sale.

Related: Global insurance mergers & acquisitions slowed to $33B in 2016, says Conning

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