UPDATE 1-UK's Prudential sets 'aggressive' growth targets for 2017
* Eyes 15 pct annual pretax opg profit growth to 2017 in Asian unit
* Asia underlying free surplus cash target 900 mln stg to 1.1 bln stg
* Shore Capital calls the targets "aggressive"
By Chris Vellacott
LONDON, Dec 10 (Reuters) - British life insurance group Prudential laid out an "aggressive" growth plan on Tuesday, targeting at least 10 billion pounds of cumulative cash generation by the end of 2017 driven primarily by demand from Asia's wealthy middle classes.
In a statement ahead of presentations to investors in London on Tuesday, Prudential said it expected 15 percent annual pretax IFRS operating profit growth up to 2017 in its Asian life and asset management business.
The group said it was aiming for underlying free surplus cash generation in Asia of 900 million pounds to 1.1 billion pounds in 2017, compared with 484 million pounds in 2012.
"Our exposure to fast-growing sweet-spot markets, increasing demand for savings and protection products from a rapidly emerging and increasingly wealthy middle class, and our track record of execution underpin our two new 2017 objectives in Asia," Group Chief Executive Tidjane Thiam said.
Insurance industry specialist Eamonn Flanagan at Shore Capital Stockbrokers said the targets "on first viewing, appear pretty stretching and aggressive" but added: "To us, they are a sign of the drive and determination of the group's management to deliver real value for shareholders."
The insurer's targeted 10 billion pounds of cash generation over the next four years equals a third of its overall worth on the basis of current share prices, Thiam noted.
The new goals come as the group approaches growth targets set in 2010 following a failed bid to buy Asian rival AIA.
Thiam said Prudential was on track to achieve the last of five objectives - doubling Asian new business profits by 2013 - in spite of disruption caused by the financial crisis.
He also said that beyond 2017, the group would seek investments in new markets that can emulate Asian characteristics such as young populations and an expanding middle class but are as yet untapped by the industry.
Thiam said the group was exploring the possibility of setting up in Saudi Arabia and had already made initial investments in Cambodia, Myanmar, Poland and Ghana.
"Our overall scale and the core skills we have developed in Asia enable us to develop new markets at low opportunity cost," Thiam said.
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