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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 March 2006, 13:06 GMT 14:06 UK
Equitable in 'serious' sale talks
Equitable Life
Equitable Life came close to collapse in 2000
Insurance firm Equitable Life is in "serious talks" about a sale of all or part of its business, but says it refuses to rush into any deal.

The group, reporting its annual results for 2005, said it was now more stable and secure than when it last reported.

Excess realistic assets, the key measure of its solvency, have risen to 669m ($1.17bn), up from 455m in 2004.

Equitable nearly collapsed in 2000 when the insurer said it could not afford to keep some of its pension promises.

The insurer now says it could operate securely as a closed with-profits fund, paying policyholders their benefits as they were due.

'Willing sellers'

The group said its with-profits fund yielded 10.1% during the year, and as a result it was paying bonuses of 4.5% on with-profits pensions policies, up from 3.5% last year, and 3.6% on life policies, up from 2.8% in the previous year.

I believe we're nearly out of the woods
Charles Thomson, Equitable Life chief executive

"We are willing sellers if a deal can be done but we are not forced sellers and we are strong enough to run off the with-profits fund," said chief executive Charles Thomson.

"The society is once again more stable and more secure than the last time we reported. I believe we're nearly out of the woods."

But as a mutual, he added, any move to sell the company would have to be in the interests of policyholders, and any change would need to be approved by them.

European probe

In January, it was announced that the Equitable Life scandal was to be examined by the European Parliament.

The investigation will focus on whether the government failed in its regulatory duty and may call on UK Treasury officials to testify.

More than 200 MEPs signed the petition calling for the investigation into the scandal, which hit a million savers.

Many Equitable Life policyholders lost a substantial portion of their life savings when the insurer had to cut payouts to stay afloat.

The European Parliament's investigation is the latest in a long line of inquiries into the Equitable scandal.

Timeline: Equitable Life scandal
26 Jan 06 |  Business
Europe to launch Equitable probe
18 Jan 06 |  Business
Equitable drops directors claim
02 Dec 05 |  Business
Win for Equitable policyholders
23 Mar 05 |  Business
Pressure on Equitable chief to go
23 Sep 05 |  Business
Q&A: Equitable Life probe
19 Jul 04 |  Business

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