Generali to present new strategic review in January

MILAN Fri Nov 9, 2012 1:23pm EST

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MILAN (Reuters) - Italy's No.1 insurer Generali (GASI.MI) is to unveil in January how it plans to boost profitability and bolster its financial base after completing a strategic review under the leadership of new boss Mario Greco.

Third-quarter results published on Friday showed the insurer was rebuilding its financial base and net profit had surged as Generali avoided a repeat of the heavy writedowns on Greek bonds and other financial assets that had weakened it a year earlier.

Greco, previously at Swiss insurer Zurich (ZURN.VX), was put at the helm of the Trieste-based financial heavyweight on August 1t after investors unhappy with low returns ousted in anger former long-standing boss Giovanni Perissinotto.

Greco, who is going to meet investors in London on January 14, said on Friday he was carrying out a thorough assessment of the insurer's geographical presence and its products.

"At the end of the day you should have a clear understanding of how we intend to improve our run rate of profits and strengthen the balance sheet, as well as what we see to be the opportunities for Generali to compete and win against our global insurance peers," Greco told analysts after results.

Italy's biggest insurer by assets and market value posted a 43 percent rise in third-quarter operating results and its net profit came in at 291 million euros ($370 million) on the back of a market rally and a keener focus on the most lucrative life insurance products. A year ago, net profit had been hit hard by the sovereign debt crisis and stood at 19.5 million euros on the quarter.

Results were broadly in line with analysts' expectations.

Greco said he was confident the operating result would exceed 4 billion euros by the end of the year, within its target range.

Analysts were encouraged by improved Solvency I ratio, a measure of Generali's capacity to absorb losses, which new Chief Financial Officer Alberto Minali said had reached 145 percent by the end of October with the sale of Israeli unit Migdal.

But this is still a far cry from the 190 percent ratio reported by German rival Allianz (ALVG.DE), which said it is on course to reach an operating profit of more than 9 billion euros this year.

Generali suffered more than competitors Allianz and France's Axa (AXAF.PA) in the euro zone sovereign debt crisis as it holds vast amounts of Italian government bonds.

Non-life operating profit fell a touch but its combined ratio - a key profit indicator - was stable despite a 311 million euro hit from an earthquake in Italy and European bad weather.

LOOKING FOR BUYERS

The group is looking for buyers for its Swiss private banking unit BSI and for a U.S. reinsurance subsidiary.

The company is also reviewing its entire asset portfolio, including a 51 percent stake in a large eastern European insurance joint venture with the Czech PPF group.

PPF has the option to sell its 49 percent of the venture as of July 2014 to Generali or a third party at an estimated cost of more than 2 billion euros. So far, Generali has made no provisions on the possible purchase.

PPF is in talks with creditor banks to avoid the early repayment of a 2 billion euro loan that could come due following the July downgrade of Generali's credit rating.

CFO Minali said the downgrade in itself would not immediately trigger an early exercise of the option.

"Our situation is unchanged compared with what announced before," said Greco. "I don't think we should go deeper than that in this discussion. These are normal negotiations about cost and rates for the facility that the banks have in place."

Shares in Generali were down 2.4 percent at 1430 GMT against a 2.2 percent fall in the European insurance index .SXIP.

($1 = 0.7857 euro)

(The story corrects 15th paragraph to show that Generali is not obliged to buy the stake.)

(Additional reporting by Paola Arosio; Writing by Lisa Jucca; Editing by Stephen Jewkes and Mike Nesbit)

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