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French insurer AXA Group is merging its Belgian subsidiaries, Royale Belge and AXA Belgium, which are Belgium's second- and sixth-largest insurance companies, respectively. The new company has yet to be named, but the merger had been expected since AXA gained control of Royal Belge last month. AXA also said in Luxembourg it will merge AXA Luxembourg with Royale UAP, a Luxembourg subsidiary of Royale Belge, while in The Netherlands, its UAP-NieuwRotterdam and AXA Leven subsidiaries will be similarly merged. . . .Alternative Risk Finance, a joint venture between AXA Group and French bank Banque Paribas, has launched a catastrophe-linked option bond based on earthquake risk in California. The deal is for an unidentified U.S. client and has been done as a private placement with a small number of primarily European investors who receive a premium in exchange for taking on the earthquake risk over a one-year period. . . .Michael Deeny has been appointed chairman of the Assn. of Lloyd's Members in succession to Sir David Berriman. Mr. Deeny is currently a member of the ALM council and a former member of the ruling Council of Lloyd's. Mr. Deeny said he would carry on the job of defending the interests of names -- individual investors in the Lloyd's market -- against what the ALM believes is a campaign to force them out of the market. . . .The London P&I Club, one of the protection and indemnity mutuals for shipowners, has criticized the recent Standard & Poor's Corp. report rating the relative financial strength of the main P&I clubs. While it welcomed S&P's introduction in May of traditional financial strength ratings for P&I clubs rather than its previous system of "flag" rankings (BI, May 25), the London Club's managers maintain S&P's latest report needs to be treated with caution because "it is based on out-of-date information, and so does not properly reflect the strengths of the clubs." The ratings fail to take into account the individual circumstances of each club and thus overlook the fact that the London Club had collected all its supplementary calls on members to meet additional claims, the P&I club said. . . .Lloyd's of London has settled a dispute with the architects and builders of its 1986 headquarters over alleged defects in the building, though the terms have not been disclosed. Lloyd's had been in dispute with architects Rogers Partnership Ltd. and Ove Arup & Partners and Bovis Construction Ltd., Haden Young Ltd., and Senior Construction Services Ltd. because of corrosion in the external service units of the building. . . .Standard & Poor's Corp. has raised its insurer financial strength rating of The Imperial Fire & Marine Re-Insurance Co. Ltd. to A- from BBB+. The upgrade of the London-based reinsurer is based on good results in its first full year of operation and having demonstrated its good business franchise since the initial rating was assigned last year. Imperial Re was acquired from Aetna Life & Casualty in July 1996 by Imperial Financial Holdings Ltd., a company controlled by Imperial Re's chief executives. S&P said Imperial Re's "extremely strong capital adequacy and strong and conservative management team" are partly offset "by the good, but still fledgling, business position and lack of earnings history." . . .Lloyd's of London Hiscox Syndicate 331 has appointed Gloria Davies as senior cargo underwriter. Ms. Davies was previously cargo/specie underwriter on Octavian Syndicate 329. . . .Leucadia National Corp. of New York has agreed to sell for $140 million a 25% stake in privately held Argentine insurance holding company Caja de Ahorro y Seguro S.A. to a private Argentine company that is also an investor in Caja. The transaction, which is subject to approval of the Central Bank of Argentina, would leave Leucadia with a 5% interest in Caja.