* Total new business up 15 percent at 335.6 mln stg
* Interim dividend up 58 pct at 3.2 pence
* Funds under management at 29 bln stg (Adds detail, CEO comment, analyst view, updates shares)
By Christopher Vellacott
LONDON, July 28 British wealth manager St James's Place Plc unveiled a 58 percent hike in its interim dividend on Thursday and posted a 15 percent increase in sales during the first half of 2011 as investors continued to buy into its fund products.
The firm struck an upbeat tone in first-half earnings that comfortably matched market forecasts, with Chief Executive David Bellamy saying: "Despite the continued economic and market uncertainty, our business is in great shape."
In an interview Bellamy told Reuters the company, which contracts out management of its funds, would broaden its product range by launching a new global equity fund in September and adding three new managers.
The company's most closely watched measure of new business -- a combination of regular and single premiums -- grew to 335.6 million pounds from 292.6 milliona year earlier, St James's Place said.
Analysts at JP Morgan Cazenove had forecast first-half sales up 12 percent year on year at 328 million pounds.
St James's Place, which is majority owned by Lloyds Banking Group , also posted a net inflow of funds of 1.7 billion pounds, up 13 percent, leaving funds under management 8 percent higher since the start of the year at 29.1 billion.
"(First half) results highlights that SJP is not dependent on financial markets for growth, that operating performance remains positive, and that it is capable of translating this into improved cash returns for shareholders," said Deutsche Bank analysts in a note to clients.
St James's Place shares were trading 1 percent lower at 0815 GMT. (Editing by Sinead Cruise and David Holmes)