Standard Life and Aberdeen have agreed terms for an all-share merger of the two groups. Aberdeen shareholders will receive 0.757 new Standard Life shares for each existing Aberdeen share. Based on Standard Life's closing price on 3 March 2017 (the last business day prior to the date of the announcement) this values each Aberdeen share at 286.5p, and the company as a whole at £3.8bn.
Should the merger go ahead, Aberdeen shareholders will own approximately 33.3% of the combined group, with Standard Life shareholders holding the remaining 66.7%. Aberdeen shares rose 7.3% following the announcement.
Aberdeen has been seen as a potential acquisition target for some time. With assets under management (AUM) of a shade over £300bn it is big, but no giant by global standards. In an industry where size matters, both to reduce average costs and increase cross-selling opportunities, that put it in the 'buy or be bought' category.
Potential buyer Standard Life has been transforming itself from life insurer to asset manager in recent years. That's stood it in good stead since the government turned the pensions market on its head, scrapping the requirement for pensioners to buy an annuity.
The merger solves Aberdeen's issues of scale while also propelling Standard Life into the big league, creating the UK's largest asset manager and aiming to deliver £200m in annual cost savings. With £660bn in assets under management (AUM) the group would also be the second largest in Europe.
Aberdeen's specialism in emerging markets should mean that its funds fit well alongside Standard Life's more vanilla products, although there will inevitably be some cross over. For Aberdeen the opportunity to sell funds through Standard Life's distribution channels, particularly to retail customers and through corporate pension platforms, should provide routes to new customers.
Cost savings are likely to be the major driver of earnings growth in the short term. However, Aberdeen has suffered 15 successive quarters of outflows and Standard Life has also been struggling to hold on to assets. Stemming those outflows, or attracting new money, is key to the group's longer-run future.
Both companies currently offer generous prospective dividend yields and the combined group expects to maintain its progressive dividend policy, growing from a base of 19.82p for the 2016 financial year although there are no guarantees.
The deal is subject to approval by shareholders and competition authorities.
Q1 results (2 February 2017):
Aberdeen saw outflows across all product categories. Overall net outflows were equivalent to 3.5% of AUM, and represent a 15th consecutive quarter of outflows.
The usually higher margin equity business saw outflows of £6.6bn. However, this was primarily on the back of two large redemptions (totalling £4.2bn) from lower margin active equity mandates. A further £2.4bn is scheduled to be withdrawn in the current quarter.
The group blamed the outflows on a deterioration in investor sentiment towards emerging markets following the US election, and delays to asset allocation decisions. However, the group's core equity funds delivered a strong performance versus their benchmarks in 2016, with fixed income also delivering solid returns.
Unless otherwise stated, all estimated figures, including prospective dividend yields, are taken from a consensus of analyst forecasts compiled by Thomson Reuters. These estimates should not be taken as a reliable indicator of future performance.
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