Friends Provident finds Resolution in merger talks

The UK''s fourth largest insurer, Friends Provident, and closed life consolidator, Resolution, are reported to be in exploratory talks on a merger that would create an £8.3- billion insurer, says a report in the London-based The Times.

According to the report, discussions between the two insurers are said to have been going for several months and that they hoped to make an announcement within a fortnight.

Last May Resolution acquired Abbey National''s life insurance business for £3.6 billion, to enter the open funds market. Resolution, which has a market capitalisation of £4.3 billion, is believed to be keen on more acquisitions.

Friends Provident has charted aggressive expansion plans that would enable it to increase its profits in the UK from £64 million in 2005 to between £180 million and £200 million by 2008 and is believed to locate additional cash flows to drive its expansion.

It has been the subject of takeover speculation since its inception in 2001. According to a report US private equity firm JC Flowers is said to have approached Standard Life and AXA to consider making a combined bid for Friends Provident.