In a statement released yesterday, S&P Global Ratings said the strategic importance of Suncorp Life and Superannuation Limited (SLSL) has "weakened" following statements made in Suncorp's annual result.
In last week's annual result announcement, Suncorp revealed it is implementing an "optimisation program" for its Australian life insurance business as well as "exploring strategic alternatives".
In response, S&P has lowered its financial strength and issuer credit ratings on SLSL to 'A' from 'A+', which it said "reflects a reduced level of uplift in the rating from group support".
S&P said it has also placed Asteron Life's 'A+' rating on watch with "negative implications, reflecting uncertainty as to the level of integration of the entity with the group".
The research house said Asteron Life is now only "strategically important" for Suncorp – a downgrade from its previous "core status".
"This downgrade follows Suncorp's announcement that it has undertaken a strategic review of its Australian life insurance operations, which includes potential divestment of the operations. As such, we no longer consider SLSL as being highly unlikely to be sold," said S&P.
"The weak operating performance of the life operations relative to group expectations has triggered the group's strategic review. This weaker performance also
contributes to our assessment of slightly lower group support for SLSL compared with that for Asteron Life," said S&P.
"We expect the continued strength in [Asteron Life]'s inforce premiums, operating experience and emergence of planned profit margins to support the financial contribution of the group's New Zealand life operations, in contrast to SLSL's weaker operating performance."
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