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UPDATE 1-Norway's Gjensidige says profit rises on lower claims
* Q4 pretax 1.38 billion crowns vs av f'cast 1.12 billion
* Div 6.85 crowns/share vs 4.55 crowns a year ago
* Combined ratio 86.4 percent vs f'cast 89.0 (Adds analyst, detail)
OSLO, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Norway's biggest insurer Gjensidige said fourth-quarter earnings rose more than expected, as claims fell during the first part of the winter, while premiums earned and the return on financial assets increased.
Low interest rates as well as economic uncertainty and upcoming changes to regulation pose risks to Gjensidige's business, it said on Thursday, but the strong insurance result last year motivated a hefty increase in the dividend.
It said it would pay out 6.85 crowns per share, above forecasts and up from 4.55 crowns a year ago.
"The macro situation with regard to the Norwegian general insurance business is still regarded as good, and there are signs of improvement in the Danish market," it said.
Pretax profit for October through December rose to 1.38 billion crowns ($251.8 million) from 814 million in the year-ago period, beating all estimates in a Reuters poll of analysts in which the mean forecast was 1.12 billion crowns.
Gjensidige's combined ratio, which measures general insurance costs and claims as a percentage of premiums, improved to 86.4 percent compared with an average estimate of 89.0 percent, and from 95.7 percent a year ago.
The lower claims figure was mainly a result of a low proportion of large losses and few large weather-related events during the quarter, it said.
"This is better than expected in all areas, but especially the lack of large claims which gives a boost to commercial insurance in Norway and in the Nordics," said First Securities analyst Bengt Kirkoeen.
The group maintained its financial targets, saying that over time, the annual combined ratio should be in a range between 90 and 93 percent. ($1 = 5.4806 Norwegian crowns) (Reporting by Victoria Klesty; Additional reporting by Joachim Dagenborg; Editing by David Holmes)
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