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Zombie Fund Phoenix Rebuffs £400m Ignis Bids

(c) Sky News 2013

Phoenix Group, the 'zombie' life assurance company, has rebuffed a string of takeover approaches for its fund management arm as it approaches a crucial phase of efforts to replace billions of pounds of debt.

I understand that Phoenix (LSE: PHNX.L - news) , a FTSE-250 company set up to consolidate Britain's fragmented life assurance market, recently turned down several proposals to acquire Ignis Asset Management, which manages more than £73bn on behalf of clients.

Some of the approaches are understood to have been made as recently as the end of last year, according to people close to the company, who said that Aberdeen Asset Management (Other OTC: ABDNF - news) had also indicated an interest in buying Ignis earlier in 2012.

Aberdeen's interest in Ignis is not currently live, according to people close to both companies.

Phoenix's board is understood to have rejected the approaches, which valued Ignis at approximately £400m, telling suitors that the business was not for sale, insiders said.

Phoenix manages so-called 'zombie' life assurance funds - investments that were made to back old insurance policies - rather than writing new business. The life assurance arm has around six million customers, according to the company.

Phoenix, which entered into ultimately fruitless talks to sell itself to rival Resolution and private equity group CVC Capital Partners in 2011, is in the middle of important refinancing talks with its lenders.

It has more than £2.5bn of debt, a large chunk of which is due to mature next year.

Phoenix is chaired by Sir Howard Davies, the City grandee who is leading a review of London's airport capacity for David Cameron, the Prime Minister. The company's chief executive is Clive Bannister, a former insurance executive at HSBC (LSE: HSBA.L - news) .

A Phoenix spokesman declined to comment.