* 1st-qtr pretax profit rises 47 pct to 94.3 mln stg
* Gross written premiums fall 4.5 pct
* Shares down 1.4 pct
May 3 Direct Line Insurance Group,
Britain's biggest car insurer, reported a 47 percent rise in
quarterly pretax profit but said its core UK motor insurance
market is expected to remain competitive in 2013.
European motor insurers have been faced with sluggish price
growth because of intense competition, exacerbated in the past
decade by the rise of price-comparison websites.
Direct Line, which was spun out of Royal Bank of Scotland
in October, said it would continue to target
underwriting profitability at the expense of volume.
The company, which also offers home, travel and pet
insurance, said gross written premium fell 4.5 percent to 1
billion pounds, with a fall in motor insurance partially offset
by growth in its international business.
Chief Executive Paul Geddes said gross written premiums in
motor were hurt by the company's strategy to maintain prices and
reduce its exposure to riskier drivers.
"With gender-neutral pricing being implemented at the start
of the year, we took a decision to temporarily step back from
that young-driver market place," Geddes told reporters in a
The EU banned insurers' practice of charging men and women
different prices as sex discrimination late last year.
"We kept our prices flat year-on-year in a market that was
down sort of 5 percent," Geddes said.
Direct Line's shares were down 1.4 percent at 201 pence at
0815 GMT on the London Stock Exchange on Friday.
"The issue is the increasingly competitive nature of UK
motor insurance; rates are falling and Direct Line is giving up
exposures as a consequence," Investec Securities analyst Kevin
Ryan said in a note.
"This is sensible but there is no escaping the fact that
making money in this market is becoming more challenging," he
Pretax profit rose to 94.3 million pounds ($146.3 million)
for the quarter ended March 31 from 64.1 million pounds a year