Axa Private Equity in Singapore has rolled out its first deal, almost seven months after opening for business in August 2005. The group has announced that it has allocated $550 million to its first Asia-oriented fund.

It already has six commitments to invest $90 million in Australia, China and India. For new deals, it will be focusing on those countries and in other mature locations, such as Japan and South Korea.

ôThe Asian private-equity market is now mature enough for institutional investors like us,ö says Christophe Florin, managing director of Axa Private Equity Asia.

The two main partners in the fund are the Axa Group itself and Caisse de Depot et Placement du Quebec, which is an investment manager founded by Quebec's legislature in 1965 in order to manage public pension funds.

Axa plans to invest another $1.5 billion to $2 billion in Asia within the next five years. It says this will comprise a mix of direct investments and co-ventures with local and European partners.

Axa Private Equity is the buyout unit of EuropeÆs second largest insurer and has $9.6 billion of assets under management, comprising interests in 400 funds and 80 direct investments in European companies. Its investments have returned an annualized 20% during the last decade and it expects a similar performance from its new Asian venture.