(In 5th paragraph, corrects Q3 2011 markets loss)
* Net loss EPS C$0.14 vs est C$0.31
* Stronger markets drive improvement
* Company takes C$1 bln charge, pushes back profit target
By Cameron French
Nov 8 Manulife Financial Corp has pushed out its profit goal of C$4 billion by a year to 2016, citing macro-economic conditions, although its quarterly loss narrowed due to stronger financial markets-related results during the quarter.
The improved markets performance helped to offset a C$1 billion charge related to a shift in actuarial assumptions, Canada's largest life insurer said on Thursday.
Manulife's net loss of C$227 million ($228 million), or 14 Canadian cents per share, in the three months ended Sept. 30, compared with a year-earlier loss of C$1.28 billion, or 73 Canadian cents per share.
The result topped analysts' estimates for a net loss of 31 Canadian cents per share.
The company took an C$88 million loss due to equity market and interest rate movements during the quarter, but that compared to a much larger C$889 million markets-related loss in the year-earlier quarter.
Volatile markets have led to sharp variances in the company's quarter-to-quarter results since the 2008 financial crisis.
"It was pretty much an in-line quarter, which is unusual. Usually something comes out of the blue that changes my view of the company. That didn't happen," said Peter Routledge, an analyst at national Bank Financial.
Toronto-based Manulife, which owns U.S. insurer John Hancock, warned in August it would take the C$1 billion charge due to its annual review of actuarial assumptions. That charge relates to the current macro-economic climate on some of Manulife's insurance and annuity products.
Manulife also took a goodwill impairment charge of C$200 million.
The company also warned in August it would revisit its 2015 target of C$4 billion in net earnings, due largely to the fact that bond yields have remained stubbornly low, which changes the way the insurer calculates its ability to meet future policy obligations.
The new target pushes that goal back a year and ties it to core earnings, which will exclude the direct impact of markets.
Despite the myriad charges, Routledge said investors might take a favorable view overall to the results.
"Manulife's priced a little bit below where its peers are so there could be some upward movement in the stock," he said.
Total premiums and deposits for the company's wealth businesses rose 10 percent to exceed C$11 billion, driven by growth in most of Asia and also in the North American mutual fund and retirement businesses.
The result follows a stronger-than-expected profit by rival Sun Life Financial late on Wednesday.
Sun Life, Canada's No. 3 insurer, said it swung back to a third-quarter profit from a year-before loss due to stronger markets. It earned a core profit of 68 Canadian cents a share, ahead of analysts' estimates of 63 Canadian cents a share.
($1 = 0.9958 Canadian dollars)
(Additional reporting by Ashutosh Pandey in Bangalore)