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IAG criticised over India exit

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The move by IAG to sell its 26% stake in the SBI General joint venture in India has copped heavy criticism from leading business commentator John Durie.

Writing in The Australian last week, he called the decision “arguably the dumbest” that IAG CEO Peter Harmer has made in his career and one that is akin to “walking away from a potential gold mine”.

India has a rapidly expanding middle class base, a fast-growing economy and is seen as one huge market ripe for insurance and other financial services products.

Last week the insurance group announced a deal to offload its holdings in the joint venture. Napean Opportunities, part of Indian private equity firm Premji Invest, will acquire a 16.01% interest in SBI and an affiliate of Warburg Pincus is set to buy the remaining 9.99%.

IAG expects the move to deliver an after-tax net profit of more than $300 million, which would be recognised this financial year. Additionally, the gains will increase its regulatory capital position by more than $400 million.

“With our sharpened focus on our core territories of Australia and New Zealand, now is the right time for IAG to exit its investment in SBI General,” Mr Harmer said.

But Mr Durie sees it differently. He questioned the timing of the pullout, which comes at a time of slowing economic growth and limited opportunities in Australia.

“If there is logic to that move, it is difficult to find,” he wrote on Friday, a day after the sale was announced.

“India doesn’t treat deserters well, so once you lock the door and walk, it is not so easy to return.”