Bloomberg News

AMSTERDAM - ING Groep NV, the largest Dutch insurer, is unlikely to raise its offer for Aetna Inc.'s financial services and international units, analysts said.

ING's reluctance to raise its offer clears the way for rival bids.

ING has not said how much it offered for the units, though analysts said it probably bid about $7.5 billion. Aetna said Friday that it had started talking to other potential bidders after failing to agree with ING, though it is still in discussions with the Dutch company.

"ING made what it considers to be a fair bid, and at this stage it's unlikely to push that up," said Andrew Goodwin, an analyst at Commerzbank in London.

Other potential bidders for the Aetna units include Axa, American General, Citigroup Inc., American International Group Inc., and General Electric Capital Corp., analysts said. Axa declined to comment, and the other companies were not immediately available.

Aetna reopened negotiations with ING in May, three months after the largest U.S. health insurer rejected a joint offer from ING and Wellpoint Health Networks Inc. to buy the whole company for $10 billion.

The U.S. insurer has been under pressure from investors to sell the financial services unit and focus on improving its health business after plans to split Aetna into two publicly traded companies failed to stimulate its ailing stock.

Buying Aetna's U.S. financial services unit would satisfy a long-standing ING goal to become one of the top 10 U.S. life insurers. The Dutch insurer bought Reliastar Financial Corp. of Minneapolis in May, boosting it to No. 18 in assets. Buying Aetna's unit would push it to No. 3.

Some analysts have not counted out ING. "I think ING will still end up with it," said David Shove, an analyst at Prudential Securities. "Most of this is just dancing."

ING said it will also pursue other opportunities to expand in the United States. Analysts said the Dutch insurer may turn to unlisted companies like Pacific Life Insurance Co. or Principal Financial as options among publicly traded companies dry up.

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