Dow Jones

AMSTERDAM - Fortis, the Dutch-Belgian banking and insurance group, is likely to emulate its peers by announcing a streamlining - perhaps including some U.S. divestitures - in its yearend strategy statement.

Though the Dec. 19 statement is expected to be broad, analysts will be looking for clues to the direction the company plans to move under its new chief executive officer, Anton van Rossum.

They expect him to signal the forthcoming divestiture of less profitable assets or other moves that would distinguish the group from the Dutch banking giants ABN Amro Holding NV and ING Group NV.

This year those two companies revealed new strategies and financial targets. Fortis will provide its own updated targets in March.

Though Fortis' strategy statement "will be quite general," said Renate Brand, an analyst at Amsterdam-based Friesland Bank Securities, it "should give an idea of where the ship is heading."

"Like their peers, they'll want to focus on activities that they are best at and where they can be market leaders," he said.

Mr. van Rossum, who took charge in September, has already shown his desire to move swiftly. He has introduced a more customer-oriented executive committee to sharpen the group's focus on key business areas.

One key area is likely to be insurance. In October, Fortis announced an agreement to buy the Dutch insurer ASR NV. Once that purchase is completed, which could be as early as this week, Fortis will be the largest insurer in the Benelux countries, with a 16.4% market share in terms of premium income in life insurance and 11.9% in nonlife. That will put it ahead of rivals ING, Axa, and Aegon NV.

Fortis is not likely to announce any major partnerships or acquisitions, but analysts expect divestitures, especially in the worse-performing accident and health insurance markets in the United States, as the group looks to deploy its resources elsewhere.

This could involve the sale of John Alden, acquired in 1998, or of the whole business, according to Jaap Meijer, an analyst at SNS Securities in Amsterdam.

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