UPDATE 2-Vienna Insurance raises dividend after record results

Wed Apr 3, 2013 6:30am EDT

* 2012 dividend raised 9 pct to 1.20 eur/shr

* Combined ratio 96.65 pct

* Shares down 0.4 pct (Adds detail on weather, Austria, updates shares)

By Georgina Prodhan

VIENNA, April 3 (Reuters) - Vienna Insurance Group raised its dividend for 2012 after confirming record results, helped by a solid performance in Austria and the Czech Republic that offset higher than average bad-weather claims.

Emerging Europe's biggest insurer said on Wednesday its pretax profit grew 5 percent to 587 million euros as premiums rose, while its combined ratio - a key measure of profitability - was steady at 96.65 percent.

Profit was boosted by a 22 increase at its property and casualty business.

Earnings from life insurance fell 6 percent, largely due to Austria, its biggest market, where an unfavourable tax law has discouraged customers. In Austria overall, pretax profit rose 1 percent.

Vienna Insurance raised the dividend by 9 percent to 1.20 euros ($1.54) per share.

When it reported preliminary results on Jan. 24, it gave no targets for 2013, saying there were too many unpredictable factors at work. It said the same on Wednesday.

Group consolidated premiums rose 9 percent to 9.7 billion euros.

Shares in Vienna Insurance were down 0.4 percent at 37.10 euros by 0951 GMT, reversing earlier gains and broadly in line with the European insurance sector.

Chief Executive Peter Hagen said claims related to bad weather had cost the company 150 million euros, far more than in an average year, with Austria the biggest contributor.

The east of the Alpine republic is suffering its coldest start to the spring season in almost seven decades, according to the country's meteorological office.

For the first time, Vienna Insurance took in the majority of its premiums from central and eastern Europe, where it has established leading positions in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania, helped by acquisitions.

In the Czech Republic, its biggest foreign market, the group increased profits by 4 percent and had its best combined ratio, but in Romania, which is struggling to recover from the depths of a 2009 recession, it made a pretax loss of 20 million euros.

($1 = 0.7789 euros) (Reporting by Georgina Prodhan; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)

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