Market Overview

Is Chicago Driving Out its Business?

Reports on Friday are suggesting that insurance brokerage Aon (NYSE: AON) is shifting out of its Chicago offices and relocating to London in order to improve access to emerging markets and increase financial flexibility.

According to Alternative Press, Aon said that the move will help it take advantage of strategic proximity to Lloyd's and the London market, which it believes to be one of the key international hubs of insurance and risk brokerage. It already has 6,000 employees in London.

"As the proportion of Aon's revenue from international operations continues to grow, the ability to allocate capital for investment and growth will be vital to the firm's continued success," the company said in a statement.

It seems like a smart business move. However, as someone who lived in London for ten years, this scribe can inform Aon that the grass is not always greener.

Chicago might have been dubbed the Windy City because of its politicians (who are full of hot air) and not because of the weather, but the name does work on two levels and Chi-town can get some hefty wind. Still, that is always going to be preferable to the grey, dull dreariness of the London weather. Do not believe the period dramas. Those sunny days by the lake in a buttercup-filled field are very, very rare.

Both cities have their share of beautiful architecture and some cool history, but London cannot claim to have been Gotham City in a recent Batman movie.

As for sports, we at Benzinga are Detroit-based and therefore we are Detroit fans. The Red Wings > the Black Hawks. The Lions > the Bears, etc. Still, London does not have much going for it either. Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham soccer fans are pompous. Only West Ham has a sense of humor and humility, and they are not in the top flight anymore. Fulham has Clint Dempsey, perhaps the best American player at present, so they might be worth a look. For proper soccer played right and well, you have to go a few hours north to Liverpool.

There is good shopping in London, and some good bars. But the city is way over-priced. That might provide a huge shock to any Aon employees relocating with the company. As for rent – be prepared to lose the majority of your income to that.

Maybe the company has no choice though. AP says that Aon has recently agreed to pay out $16 million to settle criminal and civil allegations that it bribed employees of government-owned companies between '83 and 2007. Still, Aon denies the notion that the move to the UK and anything to do with the settlement.

"This is a decision based on our global growth strategy," said VP of global public relations David Prosperi.

So off to London they go, although they need to get shareholder approval first. Chicago will remain its U.S. headquarters, and they say that the move will not result in any job losses. So maybe they are getting the best of both worlds.

Our advice to Aon? Come to Detroit.


ACTION ITEMS:

Bullish:
Traders who believe that Aon will benefit from the move might want to consider the following trades:
  • Aon seems to have thought this through. Their business reasons for moving are sound.
  • Deutsche Bank, and every other investment bank on Liverpool Street in London will say that the city is a good base.
Bearish:
Traders who believe that they will return to Chicago with tails between legs may consider alternative positions:
  • To be honest, they would probably recover in Chi-town anyway.
  • Still, wouldn't hurt to look at other insurance brokerages like Willis Group or Imperial Holdings.
Neither Benzinga nor its staff recommend that you buy, sell, or hold any security. We do not offer investment advice, personalized or otherwise. Benzinga recommends that you conduct your own due diligence and consult a certified financial professional for personalized advice about your financial situation.

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