Aberdeen Asset chief sees greater post-acquisition gains

MONACO, June 24 Tue Jun 24, 2014 12:00pm EDT

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MONACO, June 24 (Reuters) - British fund manager Aberdeen Asset Management Plc sees greater than forecast savings from its recent SWIP acquisition and expects to raise its dividend this year, as well as seeing scope to buy back shares, its chief executive said on Tuesday.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Fund Forum conference in Monaco on Tuesday, Martin Gilbert said the integration of SWIP was going well and the group was focused on "the hard bit", around front-office integration, which should be finished in the next two to three weeks.

Once the acquisition from Lloyds Banking Group Plc was complete, Gilbert saw cost savings from the deal exceeding the previously expected total of between 48 million pounds ($81.6 million) and 50 million, although he declined to comment further.

He reiterated a plan to increase the dividend and buy back shares. "We'd really like to see the dividend increasing and then buying back shares after that."

With analysts predicting a flat year in terms of earnings, Gilbert said he would still look to increase the dividend and said broker estimates for an increase of between 10 and 15 percent were "not unreasonable".

In the full year to Sept. 30, 2013, Aberdeen - based in the Scottish city after which it is named - increased its dividend 39 percent to 16 pence. The 2014 half-year payout was up 12.5 percent to 6.75 pence.

BROADLY NEUTRAL

Aberdeen recently warned its profits had been hit by clients pulling money out of its core emerging markets funds and Gilbert said that after a "difficult" 2013 for emerging market equity outflows, which continued into the first two months of 2014, the outflow had slowed in March and was now "broadly neutral".

He also said he had no near-term plans to add to a run of acquisitions, most recently of SWIP which was completed at the end of March.

"This financial year, to 30th September, is the year when we integrate SWIP. The next financial year is when we see a clean set of numbers for our business and we're hoping to see growth, especially in those areas we've just beefed up," including fixed income and UK property, he said.

"We've no plans to do any (more) acquisitions and we're not in discussions with anyone."

With Scotland due to vote on whether to leave the United Kingdom on Sept. 18, Gilbert said Aberdeen would stick to a neutral stance on the issue of independence - contrasting with peers such as Standard Life Plc who have gone public with concerns about the implications of a "yes" vote.

"The people that have (taken a stance) have taken it for whatever reason, only they will know. But I'm not sure it's been the best strategy, to take a stance, because you do run the risk of attracting criticism from whatever side of the equation.

"I think it's best, on this occasion, to keep your head down." ($1 = 0.5880 British Pounds) (Editing by David Holmes)

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