Australia's QBE posts 37 percent fall in H1 net profit
SYDNEY Aug 20 (Reuters) - QBE Insurance, Australia's biggest insurer, posted a 37 percent fall in half-year net profit to $477 million, as the company continued to pay out claims for previous years.
QBE has been grappling with hefty claims since a disaster-filled 2011 - including storms, floods and earthquakes from Australia to the United States - and low bond yields that battered its profits and shares.
The company's first-half net profit of $477 million compared with $760 million a year ago.
Cash profit of $590 million was down from $844 million a year ago and below the $608.4 million expected by analysts, according to Thomson Reuters data.
The company said claims for accidents in previous years amounted to $178 million, while the previous corresponding half was bolstered by significant gains on fixed interest securities.
The insurance profit margin slipped to 10.8 percent, from 13 percent a year ago.
Chief Executive John Neal said the company's gross written premium and net earned premium will be lower than guidance for 2013 because of reductions in North America, but he said the company is on track to reach its target of a 92 percent combined operating ratio and an 11 percent insurance profit margin.
"We are making good progress in improving key capital ratios and metrics," Neal said in a statement.
QBE said earlier this month it had set aside 2.75 million euros ($3.64 million) for the immediate needs of those affected by last week's train crash in Galicia in northwest Spain, which left 79 people dead.
QBE may have to cover much higher costs of injury to third parties and rail infrastructure, but only if its client, state train operator Renfe, is found to bear responsibility for the accident.
But it has said its exposure to any public event is limited to $50 million because of reinsurance arrangements where it sells on risk to other parties to hedge liability.
QBE shares last closed at $17.03 on Monday. The stock has risen around 32 percent over the past year. (Reporting By Jane Wardell; Editing by Richard Pullin)