MetLife Inc., the insurer spending $15.5 billion to buy an overseas unit from American International Group Inc., said lower growth in the U.S. market is prompting expansion abroad.

"This is a relatively slow-growth market," Chief Executive Robert Henrikson said of the U.S. on Wednesday at a conference hosted by Citigroup Inc. "We like the international growth. We talked about how we want it to be a larger percentage of our portfolio."

Henrikson is expanding MetLife's business in Asia after mostly sidestepping the housing-related losses that forced AIG into a $182.3 billion government bailout. The U.S. life insurance market contracted 15% last year amid the economic slump, prompting carriers to seek growth elsewhere. Henrikson said he expects MetLife to gain market share in the U.S. while adding AIG's former customers in Europe and Asia.

Increasing affluence in Asia will help drive 40% of global life insurance premium growth over five years, according to a 2009 study by McKinsey & Co.

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