Canadian insurers Manulife, Sun Life profits beat on Asia demand

(Reuters) - Canadian insurers Manulife MFC.TO, Sun Life SLF.TO beat analysts' quarterly profit estimates on Wednesday, driven by strong demand in Asia, especially Hong Kong.

Asia has been a focus area for Canadian insurers who have been looking to sell cheaper insurance policies to the region’s burgeoning middle class as domestic markets face intense competition.

Manulife’s Asia unit reported a nearly 13% rise in core earnings to C$520 million ($394.6 million), while its domestic and U.S. businesses slipped.

Canada’s biggest insurer said annualized premium equivalent sales in Hong Kong surged 58%, driven by its recently launched health insurance and other products.

“Our Hong Kong business has been less impacted by the current political situation,” Sun Life Chief Financial Officer Kevin Strain told Reuters.

“Hong Kong has a lot of resilience and our performance underscores the strong commitment to Hong Kong and our ability to offer the right savings and insurance products. We have been around in Hong Kong for a long time and we remain committed to Hong Kong.”

Underlying net income at the company’s Asia unit rose 25% to C$138 million, while insurance sales jumped 47% from a year earlier.

Hong Kong has witnessed massive protests over the past five months over perceived Chinese meddling with the freedoms promised when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997. China denies doing so, and has blamed Western countries for stirring up trouble.

Sun Life’s underlying net income rose to C$809 million, or C$1.37 per share, in the third quarter ended Sept. 30, from C$730 million, or C$1.20 per share, a year earlier.

Analysts on average had expected a profit of C$1.27 per share, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

However, Manulife’s core earnings attributed to shareholders fell marginally to C$1.53 billion.

On a per share basis, core earnings rose by 1 Canadian cent to 76 Canadian cents. Analysts on average had expected a profit of 73 Canadian cents per share, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Reporting by C Nivedita in Bengaluru, Denny Thomas in Toronto; Additional reporting by Abhishek Manikandan and Bharath Manjesh in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila