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MetLife to Buy Vision-Care Firm Versant for $1.68 Billion

MetLife, further building its group-benefits lines, agreed to pay $1.68 billion for vision-care provider Versant Health.
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Insurer MetLife  (MET) - Get MetLife Inc. Report, further building its group-benefits business, definitively agreed to acquire vision-care company Versant Health for about $1.68 billion cash from a group led by the New York private-equity firm Centerbridge Partners. 

MetLife aims to deploy capital "to the highest-value opportunities," said MetLife President and Chief Executive Michel Khalaf in a statement. Versant is "the right strategic fit with our group benefits business."

The deal brings brands like Davis Vision and Superior Vision into the MetLife fold. Versant, Linthicum, Md., has about 35 million members.

MetLife says it has offered group vision insurance since 2012. Adding Versant Health will give MetLife roughly 38 million vision-care members.

MetLife's says it already has a 15% market share in the U.S. Group benefits space. Its group-benefits insurance products serve about 41 million U.S. employees and their dependents. 

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This deal builds on MetLife's recent expansion into pet insurance, digital estate planning, and health savings and spending accounts, the company said. 

The New York insurer is paying for the transaction with cash on hand. The companies expect to close the deal in the fourth quarter, conditioned on matters including regulatory clearances. 

Separately, the company says it expects to complete its current share repurchase authorization this year. The company approved a $2 billion share buyback in July 2019.

Earlier this month, Moody's pegged MetLife's preferred stock with a stable outlook, citing the insurer's U.S. market positions, including in the group insurance market.

The credit rating firm did say that some of MetLife's strengths are mitigated by remaining risk exposure tied to managing a book of runoff legacy U.S. variable annuities. 

Shares of MetLife at last check were little changed at $37.56.