Fairfax Financial Holdings is in early talks to sell 25 percent of India’s largest private general insurer ICICI Lombard in a deal that could fetch up to USD1 billion, as the Canadian firm looks to cash out and start a new insurance joint venture, sources familiar with the matter said.

ICICI Lombard is a joint venture formed in 2001 between ICICI Bank, India’s second-largest bank, and Fairfax, which is led by Canadian billionaire Prem Watsa. Fairfax, which owns a 35 percent stake in the venture, has seen the value of its investment surge over the past five years, as India’s general insurance market and ICICI Lombard have grown at a compounded annual rate of over 16 percent.

Vehicle ownership in the country has surged and the market remains under-penetrated. Reducing its stake to 10 percent will allow the Canadian firm to start a new general insurance joint venture in India, which it aims to do, one of the sources said, adding foreign investors cannot own more than 10 percent of two insurance companies, as per Indian regulations.

Private equity firms, including Blackstone Group and KKR & Co, as well as some Canadian pension funds have expressed interest in Fairfax’s stake, the sources said. ICICI may also look to sell a 10 percent stake in the unit at the same time, one source said. Buyers are likely to pay a larger premium for a stake in ICICI Lombard if they are able to get as much as a third of the company, the sources said.

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