* Canada's No. 1 insurer halved payout in 2009
* Leverage ratio has grown
* No comment on interest in ING assets
March 28 Manulife Financial, which
slashed its shareholder dividend three years ago, is unlikely to
consider raising the payout until it lowers a key debt ratio,
the company's chief risk officer said on Wednesday.
Manulife, Canada's biggest insurer and owner of U.S. insurer
John Hancock, halved its dividend in August 2009 to preserve
capital after weak financial markets devastated its profit.
Since then, the company has hedged its market exposure and
pulled back from unprofitable business lines. However, its
leverage ratio is well above its target of 25 percent. It was 33
percent at the end of 2011.
Leverage is the use of financial instruments or borrowed
capital to try to increase investment returns.
"What you will see is we'll want to bring that leverage
ratio down a little bit over time before we look at maybe
dividends," Chief Risk Officer Rahim Hirji told a financial
conference in Montreal.
Manulife, which eked out net income of C$129 million ($129.5
million) in 2011, currently pays a quarterly dividend of 13
Canadian cents a share.
Hirji would not comment on reports that Manulife may be
interested in purchasing the Asian insurance and asset
management arms of Dutch firm ING Groep, but he said
Manulife in general is interested in buying assets in Asia.
Manulife has hired bankers to advise it on a possible
purchase of the ING assets, sources familiar with the situation
have told Reuters.
ING must spin off its insurance and investment management
operations by the end of 2013 in return for European Commission
approval for the 10 billion euros ($13.3 billion) in Dutch state
aid it received in 2008.