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Bank of East Asia to sell insurance unit after activist pressure

Hong Kong lender to seek China partner and cut costs by streamlining business

HONG KONG -- Bank of East Asia, the Hong Kong-based lender besieged by activist investor Elliott Management, has agreed to sell its life insurance unit, likely worth as much as $600 million, and seek a partner for its China business after a review aimed at boosting its profits and stock performance.

The 102-year-old bank, which counts Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. as its biggest shareholder, said it plans to seek "strategic and synergistic partnerships" for its mainland China banking business. Bank of East Asia also said in a statement that it was eyeing a long-term exclusive distribution agreement with the buyer of BEA Life, gaining a potential new source of revenue.

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