By Samuel Shen and John Ruwitch
SHANGHAI, Dec 1 (Reuters) - Chinese insurers may boost outbound investment by about $100 billion over the next three years, as they seek to diversify risks through buying more overseas securities, private equity and real estate, BNP Paribas said on Thursday, citing a survey.
This reflects insurers' long-term strategy, and is driven mainly by a desire to deliver stable and sustainable returns, rather than a response to a weakening yuan, said Philippe Benoit, head of Asia Pacific at BNP Paribas securities services.
"These are long-term investment decisions ... not based on what you're reading in the press," he said, adding that hedging yuan exposure played a minor role in the insurers' decision-making.
Chinese insurers are allowed to invest up to 15 percent of their assets overseas, but currently, just 2 percent has been allocated abroad, suggesting "it's a long-term trend".
The survey was published at a time when Beijing is stepping up efforts to stem capital outflows that adds depreciation pressure on the yuan. The Chinese currency has fallen to more than eight-year lows against a surging U.S. dollar.
This week, China intensified scrutiny over outbound investment, and also tightened rules on overseas yuan loans in a battle to curb outflows.
Benoit said Chinese insurers, who have "a long-term mindset", are still in the early stages of foreign investing, and such an aspiration will be unlikely deterred by short-term factors.
Acquisitive Chinese insurers including Ping An Insurance Group of China and Anbang Insurance Group have been shopping overseas for the past few years, snapping up foreign companies and properties.
At the end of 2015, Chinese insurers held overseas assets worth $36.7 billion, a 51 percent jump from a year earlier, but still accounted for just 2 percent of industry assets totalling 12 trillion yuan ($1.74 trillion).
BNP Paribas' estimate was based on a recent survey with China's top 20 insurers, which showed that over half of the respondents plan to increase the percentage of their assets overseas to 5-10 percent, according to the French bank.
The United States and Europe are the most popular investment destinations for Chinese insurers, partly because of the size and the depth of the two markets, according to the survey.
Most insurers participating in the survey say they prefer to invest in foreign stocks, bonds, private equity and real estate.
Chinese insurers face a series of challenges overseas, including identifying investment opportunities and managing risks, creating business opportunities for Western banks such as BNP Paribas, which can act as custodian and advisor for Chinese insurers, Benoit said. ($1 = 6.8929 Chinese yuan renminbi) (Editing by David Evans)