Lincoln National taps TARP, sells shares to boost capital

Banks are clamoring to leave the government's financial rescue program, but insurers are eager to get in. Last week, Hartford Financial Group (HIG) announced it would participate.

And now Lincoln National (LNC) is following suit, taking $950 million from the Treasury Department as part a series of moves aimed at raising $2.1 billion in fresh capital.

Lincoln National will sell $500 million in bonds and $600 million in common stock, in addition to the preferred shares it's selling to the government, it said in a regulatory filing today.

Participation in the Troubled Asset Repurchase Program, or TARP, "provides additional capital flexibility," Lincoln National said in a statement. "The company expects to repay this financing as soon as practicable, taking into consideration appropriate balance sheet strength and capital markets conditions."

Last month, half a dozen insurers were cleared to receive bailouts. While Hartford Financial and Lincoln National accepted, the rest -- including Allstate (ALL), Ameriprise Financial (AMP), Principal Financial Group (PFG) and Prudential Financial (PRU) -- turned the money down.

Like banks, insurance companies have seen sharp declines in investments once thought to be safe. But unlike banks, they weren't initially eligible to participate in TARP, set up when the financial crisis deepened last fall.

That set off a wave of acquisitions of banks by insurance companies, moves which would allow them to reshape themselves and meet regulators' requirements to receive TARP funds.

Lincoln National, for example, bought tiny Newton County Savings & Loan, an Indiana thrift with just $7 million in assets, or 7.4 percent of the amount it will receive from the Treasury Department.

In addition to the four insurance companies that passed up the opportunity to participate in TARP, several others missed their chance when the deals they'd put together to buy banks fell apart. For example, the Phoenix Cos. (PNX) got approval in January to buy American Sterling Bank, a Missouri-based thrift with $181 million in assets, but the deal stalled and the bank was later seized by regulators and closed.

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