The True Worth of Ageas Shares Ahead of Shareholders’ Meeting

HONG KONG, Apr 5, 2024 – (ACN Newswire via – The abandoning of Ageas’ SA/NV (AGSN:BB) bid for Direct Line Group has reignited interest in the company’s trajectory. Following the announcement of shelving a potential third bid, Ageas experienced a remarkable surge in its stock price by over 10%, reflecting a resounding vote of confidence from the market in its enduring value proposition. Furthermore, the highly anticipated decision to restart share buyback initiatives, alongside acquisition rumors and sustained strong performance, has further bolstered market optimism.

The Extraordinary General Meeting of Shareholders of Ageas, slated for April 17, is expected to be highly significant. However, historical trends indicate that attendance may fall short of the requisite 50% threshold, necessitating a rescheduled ordinary and extraordinary shareholders’ meeting (the “Meeting”) on May 15. This Meeting holds two significant focal points of interest. Firstly, Ageas Group CEO Hans De Cuyer’s tenure renewal is expected to be a significant agenda item, particularly following the company’s decision to cease its bid for Direct Line. Envisaged measures to attract investors include the potential utilization of the company’s surplus cash reserves exceeding €1 billion to recommence a large-scale share buyback program. Although Ageas has a history of implementing such initiatives, the program was paused for several years since 2022. The resumption of the buyback plan is poised to invigorate the capital markets and significantly enhance EPS, acting as a potent catalyst for the company’s stock price. As the Meeting approaches, it presents an opportune moment to delve into the financial landscape and assess the current valuation of Ageas’ stock. The undervaluation of Ageas’ shares could present an opportunity for those who recognize the potential for significant returns.

Amidst the challenges posed by the pandemic, Ageas’ Asian operations have encountered a downturn in market assessment. However, a glimmer of hope shines through its endeavors. The Taiping Life joint venture, a flagship initiative, stands tall among China’s elite insurers, highlighting its profitability amidst a competitive landscape. Particularly noteworthy is Taiping’s commendable performance in 2023. Yet, Ageas extends its footprint across vibrant markets in Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, India, and the Philippines. Although Ageas may not hold the majority stake in all these ventures (with the exception of acquiring the majority stake in the Indian Life JV in 2022), its strategic alliances with local financial institutions and influential family enterprises underscore its pervasive presence throughout the region. Furthermore, Ageas boasts leading positions in each market and holds a treasure trove of valuable assets. When considering past merger and acquisition transactions, it’s evident that the collective value of Ageas’ Asian operations forms a significant portion of its current market value.

Recent market rumors hint at keen interest from heavyweight buyers like Generali, BNP and possibly some Belgian banks, which is hardly surprising given Ageas’ current market cap nudging close to €8 billion, rendering it an irresistible acquisition target. Adding to the allure is the Danish Compromise, a Basel Rule that has rekindled enthusiasm for bank investments in insurers. With interest rates on the rise, banks are sitting on ample surplus cash, primed for strategic maneuvers like share buybacks and M&A activity, which could serve as a pivotal catalyst for Ageas.

Berenberg’s latest analysis paints an enticing outlook for Ageas, underscoring its current trading price at a notably low 5.9x 2025 Bloomberg consensus price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio, a sharp contrast with its historical five-year average of 8x. Additionally, Bloomberg’s average target price for Ageas stock is around €48, with KBC Securities, Berenberg, and Barclays offering target values of €50.0, €54.9, and €51.5 respectively. These varied targets suggest significant upward movement potential in Ageas’ stock price. Moreover, the enticing prospects of potential share buybacks and mergers and acquisitions (M&A) ventures further emphasize the compelling upside potential for Ageas investors.

On a standalone basis, Ageas has demonstrated stellar performance. In 2023, the company reported insurance premiums of EUR 17.1 billion, representing an 8% increase at constant foreign exchange rates, along with a steady net income of approximately EUR 1 billion. The robust performance is reflected in Ageas’ return on shareholders’ equity, which stood at 16.2%, complemented by a Solvency II ratio of 217%. Analysts anticipate continued growth in Ageas’s net profit. With an attractive annual dividend yield and the potential for buybacks, Ageas presents itself as a stable investment option, particularly appealing to shareholders focused on long-term value. Additionally, investors are patiently awaiting the development and recovery of Ageas’ Asian business, which adds to the company’s overall appeal and potential for sustained growth.

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