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China's Fosun enters U.S. market with $433M Meadowbrook Insurance buy

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(Reuters) — Chinese conglomerate Fosun International Ltd. is making its first foray into the U.S. insurance market and buying property/casualty insurer Meadowbrook Insurance Group Inc., a deal that it said would help it secure funds for further acquisitions.

The deal, the latest in a buying spree by Fosun that has seen it spend more than $4 billion in two years, would also be the first full purchase of a U.S. insurer by a Chinese company and comes as the Beijing government encourages local firms to extend their reach beyond emerging markets to Western financial firms.

Fosun, owned by billionaire businessman Guo Guangchang, said in an exchange filing it would buy Meadowbrook for about $433 million. The cash deal of $8.65 per share represents a 24% premium over Meadowbrook's closing price on Dec. 29, the companies added.

"The Group regards the development of insurance business as a major approach to access long-term high-quality capital," Fosun said in the filing. A China-based Fosun spokeswoman declined to comment further.

Shares of Meadowbrook, a specialty commercial insurance underwriter and insurance administration services company, were up 14% at $8.15 in extended trading.

Fosun's Mr. Guo is seeking to broaden the conglomerate's access to capital in order to fund a series of acquisitions he hopes will transform the group's business model.

In the past two years, those deals have largely been funded with bank credit and leverage, but now Mr. Guo hopes to gain a more sustainable source of funds by buying into financial firms.

In May, Fosun bought Portuguese insurer Fidelidade for $1.29 billion, bolstering its assets and easing the pressure on its balance sheet.

Mr. Guo, whom Forbes estimates has a net worth of about $4.3 billion, is also involved in a takeover bid for French holiday operator Club Mediterranee S.A. with Italian tycoon Andrea Bonom.

The group has also expressed interest in bidding for Portugal's Novo Banco S.A., the new bank created in the wake of the failure of Banco Espirito Santo S.A., Chinese media said.

Fosun, which has a market capitalization of about $9.10 billion, is into insurance, industrial operations, investment and asset management.

The Meadowbrook deal, which has been approved by both companies' boards, is expected to close in the second half of 2015. Meadowbrook will maintain its headquarters in Southfield, Michigan, and will operate under the Meadowbrook brand name.