UPDATE 1-Britain's Just Retirement says sales to be hit by pension reforms

Wed Apr 9, 2014 7:14am EDT

(Adds details, background, CEO quote; updates shares)

April 9 (Reuters) - Insurer Just Retirement Group Plc said it no longer expects full-year sales to grow 7 percent, blaming uncertainty in Britain's individually underwritten annuities market after surprise pension reforms last month.

In the biggest shake up in pensions in nearly a century, Finance Minister George Osborne's annual budget in mid March relaxed rules that traditionally forced pensioners to buy annuities at retirement.

The reforms give retirees more access to their pension pots and allow them to put away more money tax-free, giving them the option of not buying annuities.

This could mean less business for Just Retirement, which gets about three-quarters of its sales from individual underwritten annuities (IUA), which are underwritten against a retiree's pensions pot.

Such annuities are given to people who often have health problems so they can get better terms.

"Current trading suggests that the budget has had a material effect on individually underwritten annuity volumes," Chief Executive Rodney Cook said in a statement on Wednesday.

The company, which went public last November, did not give a new estimate for sales growth.

Bernstein Research said last month that the reforms could shrink Britain's annuity market for individuals by up to half.

Just Retirement said the weakness in the IUA business would be moderated by a "small success" in the defined benefit market - where the employer and employee agree on the terms of the pension.

The pension provider now expects total premium income from its defined benefits de-risking business to be at least 80 million pounds ($134 million) in the full year ended June 30.

The company's total annuities sales fell 14 percent to 687.8 million pounds for the half year ended Dec. 31.

Just Retirement, which is backed by private equity group Permira, said it would provide a further update on May 12, along with its third-quarter results.

Shares of the insurer were down 0.07 percent at 147.5 pence at 1105 GMT on the London Stock Exchange.

They have lost 45 percent of their value since the budget announcement, while rival Partnership Assurance's stock has lost 59 percent of its value. The shares of annuities providers such as Legal & General Group Plc and Resolution Ltd have also dropped sharply since the budget. (Reporting by Richa Naidu and Esha Vaish in Bangalore; Editing by Joyjeet Das and Savio D'Souza)

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