UPDATE 1-Hartford Financial profit tops estimates

Mon Feb 3, 2014 5:08pm EST

* 4th-quarter core earnings $0.94/share vs est. $0.90

* Catastrophe losses $28 million vs $335 million year ago

* Shares rise 4 pct after market

Feb 3 (Reuters) - Hartford Financial Services Group's quarterly profit exceeded analysts' average expectation as it benefited from lower disaster losses, and the insurer announced a new $2 billion share buyback plan.

The company, whose shares rose 4 percent in extended trading, also said it would repay $656 million of debt over 2014 and 2015.

Hartford said it expects 2014 core earnings of $1.65-$1.75 billion, excluding net favorable items. It earned $1.74 billion in 2013.

The company's net income was $314 million, or 65 cents per share, for the quarter ended Dec. 31, compared with a loss of $46 million, or 13 cents per share, a year earlier.

Hartford's losses from catastrophes fell to $28 million from $335 million a year earlier, when it was hurt by losses from superstorm Sandy that hit New York and New Jersey in October 2012.

Hartford Financial earned 94 cents per share on an operating basis.

Analysts on average had expected the company to earn 90 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

The company, under Chief Executive Liam McGee, has been shifting its focus to the more stable and less risky business of property casualty from annuities.

The Hartford, Connecticut-based company is the 11th-largest P&C insurer in the country with a market share of about 2 percent, according to a report published by National Association of Insurance Commissioners in April 2013.

Shares of the company, which has a market valuation of about $15 billion, closed at $32.18 on the New York Stock Exchange on Monday.

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