UPDATE 2-Generali asset sales point to leaner, meaner future

Thu Nov 7, 2013 7:28am EST

Related Topics

* Italian insurer's Q3 net profit up 75 percent, beats forecasts

* Solvency I ratio up to 152 pct by end-Oct, close to 2015 target

* CEO says 2013 operating profit will beat 2012 figure

* Says Generali still looking to sell BSI unit

* Shares down 1.5 pct after strong run-up (adds analyst comments, more details, shares)

By Lisa Jucca

MILAN, Nov 7 (Reuters) - Italian insurer Generali said on Thursday a series of asset sales had bolstered its capital position, putting it on track to beat last year's results and hit its business targets.

The earnings update provided evidence that Chief Executive Mario Greco's plan for giving the firm a more solid and more profitable business footing is bearing fruit.

Under Greco, Europe's biggest life insurer by premiums is taking steps to sell non-core assets and focus on higher-margin life products.

Its Solvency I ratio - the dominant measure of capital strength for insurers - rose to 152 percent at the end of October after it sold life reinsurance assets in the United States and minority interests in Mexico. That put it within reach of a target of 160 percent it has set for 2015.

That was "the most encouraging figure of the day," Kepler Cheuvreux analysts said in a client note. "This figure was 139 percent at the end of June and therefore must be seen as a huge achievement."

The insurer reported third-quarter net profit of 510 million euros ($690 million), up from 291 million a year ago and exceeding the consensus forecast of 450 million euros in a Reuters survey of seven analysts.

Greco also said he expected Generali's full-year operating profit to improve from last year, after the nine-month figure climbed 6 percent to 3.4 billion euros on a recovery in the non-life business.

Despite the upbeat report the firm's share price fell, trading down 1.56 percent by 1032 GMT and lagging a 0.5 percent fall in the European insurance index.

Traders said stagnant life premiums had taken a toll, as well as profit taking after a recent rally took the shares to their highest level since April 2010 on Wednesday.

"Shares have been very strong in the run-up to results. There have been quite a lot of (high) expectations," said Nomura analyst Michael Klien.

SWISS BSI STILL ON THE BLOCK

Over the last six months, shares in Generali have rallied 23 percent, in line with a rise at French rival Axa and outperforming a 6 percent rise at Germany's Allianz..

The gains follow the unveiling in January of Greco's aggressive turnaround plan. He took over in August 2012 from long-standing former CEO Giovanni Perissinotto, who was ousted by shareholders unhappy with the company shares' underperformance.

The CEO said Generali was still looking to sell its Swiss private banking arm BSI, which has been on the block for years.

People familiar with the situation told Reuters in October Generali was struggling to find a buyer for the asset, which it values at 2.3 billion euros on its books, and it was open to considering alternatives to the sale.

Italian insurance regulator IVASS has asked Generali to carry out a new assessment of past private equity and hedge funds deals to see whether there was a case for legal action against the previous management team that oversaw those investments.

Greco said the alternative investments, carried out in 2007-08, would have no future impact on Generali's accounts.

Generali's combined ratio, a measure of profitability in the non-life segment, improved to 95.1 percent at the end of September despite a rise in claims following floods in central and eastern Europe. (Additional reporting by Gianluca Semeraro and Isla Binnie; editing by Tom Pfeiffer, John Stonestreet)

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