UPDATE 2-Insurer L&G eyes small deals to bolster growth

Tue Aug 7, 2012 6:57am EDT

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* Shares down 1.8 pct, underperforming market

LONDON, Aug 7 (Reuters) - British life insurer Legal & General will carry out small takeovers to help underpin growth as the economy falters, its new chief executive said on Tuesday, unveiling forecast-beating half-year results.

L&G, Britain's fourth-biggest insurer, said small deals in fund management or general insurance could help offset the "prolonged austerity" and macroeconomic shocks it expects across the world, particularly in the troubled euro zone.

"You'll probably see some bolt-on acquisitions - the balance sheet is very strong and there are lots of assets for sale," Nigel Wilson told reporters on Tuesday as he presented his first set of financial results since becoming CEO last month.

"We'll retain our strategic and financial discipline, but there will be a lot more opportunities to accelerate our growth through bolt-on acquisitions."

The 176-year old insurer has traditionally taken a cautious approach to takeovers, spending about 300 million pounds ($468.48 million) on two deals during the six-year tenure of Wilson's predecessor, Tim Breedon.

No deals are imminent, Wilson added without saying what size of acquisition L&G was interested in.

Britain's fourth-biggest insurer said it should also benefit from rising demand for pension products in Britain, where many workers have not saved enough for their retirement,

L&G made an operating profit of 518 million pounds ($809 million) in the first six months of 2012, outstripping the 498 million pencilled in by analysts in a company poll.

The improvement reflected strong sales of corporate and housing protection insurance, driving a 15 percent increase in profits at L&G's risk division.

L&G shares were down 1.8 percent at 1053 GMT, underperforming a flat Stoxx 600 European insurance share index .

The stock is still up 27 percent so far this year, outpacing the sector's 14 percent rise. Analysts say the shares have benefited from L&G's limited exposure to the euro zone as well as expectations of steady dividend increases as the group focuses on generating more cash.

"It's tough out there, and they've produced numbers that are up a bit, but there's not enough here to drive upgrades," Oriel Securities analyst Barnard Marcus said.

L&G is paying an interim dividend of 1.96 pence a share, up 18 percent, and ahead of the 1.93 pence expected by analysts.

L&G's stock yields 5.5 percent based on analysts' expectation of a 7.2 pence per share payout over 2012 as a whole, L&G's Wilson said, compared with just 1.6 percent for 10-year British government bonds.

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