TORONTO (Reuters) - Sun Life Financial Inc (SLF.TO), Canada's No. 3 insurer, said on Wednesday it rebounded to a stronger-than-expected fourth quarter profit from a year-earlier loss on the back of strong investments.
Volatile markets in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis have prompted Sun Life to take several quarterly losses over the past five years.
But signs of economic optimism, particularly in Europe, prompted investors to push the shares up by nearly 40 percent last year, although they are still trading at barely half of the company's all-time high set in 2007.
The stock closed at C$30.00 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
The Toronto-based company earned C$395 million ($394.03 million), or 65 Canadian cents a share, in the quarter ended December 31. That compared with a year ago loss of C$525 million, or 90 Canadian cents, which was due to an accounting charge.
On an operating basis, Sun Life earned 76 Canadian cents a share. Analysts had expected a profit of 63 Canadian cents a share, according to Thomson I/B/E/S.
Profit was boosted by strong equity markets and increases in the fair value of real estate investments, the company said.
Sun Life has spent the last year working to reduce its market exposure and announced in December it will sell its U.S. annuity business - which carries sizable market exposures - for $1.35 billion.
Total premiums and deposits rose to C$31.9 billion from C$21.7 billion. Return on equity was 11.3 percent, compared with a negative 15.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011.
Sun Life has set an objective of C$2 billion in operating profit by 2015 and is targeting outsized growth in its Asian division to help make it happen.
Operating profit in 2012 was C$1.68 billion.
Sun Life rival Manulife Financial Corp (MFC.TO) last week rebounded to a fourth-quarter profit of C$1.06 billion from a year-ago loss on the back of investment and tax-related gains.
Reporting By Cameron French; Editing by Bernard Orr and Andre Grenon