Speculation was mounting over the future of Lloyd's motor syndicate Ensign (980) this week following Australian insurer QBE's successful take-over of its parent company, Limit, two weeks ago.

Ensign is one of the largest motor insurers in the Lloyd's market, with the capacity to write £120m of premium income in the 2000 year of account.

QBE has already stated that it does not wish to operate in the UK motor market.

After QBE acquired Iron Trades in April this year, one of its first moves was to put the UK insurer's retail book of business – predominately a motor account – up for sale.

Its statement read: “The retail division, which reported gross premium income of close to £100m in 1999 and comprises mainly personal lines motor business will continue as usual.

“Although recent improvements in market conditions for UK motor make this an attractive and profitable division, the UK motor market does not fit QBE's strategic business criteria, and QBE has therefore instructed the investment bank, Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette International to seek a suitable buyer for this division.”

Industry analysts expect QBE to maintain this strategy and sell Ensign.

“When QBE took over Iron Trades, they closed down its motor operation. I am sure that staff [at Ensign] are well aware of what happened with Iron Trades,” one source said.

QBE refused to comment.