March 16, 2020 / 5:55 AM / 24 days ago

UPDATE 2-S.Africa's Old Mutual wants new CEO within months; shares drop after earnings

(Recasts; adds details, CEO quotes, shares)

JOHANNESBURG, March 16 (Reuters) - The board of South Africa’s Old Mutual likely wants to have appointed a new chief executive within a few months, interim CEO Iain Williamson said on Monday, when the insurer announced its full-year results and its shares dropped 8.5%.

Old Mutual said full-year adjusted profit rose 7%, versus the already flagged expected increase of up to 9% - which it attributed mostly to higher returns on invested capital due to an improved market, as opposed to performance.

The company’s share drop comes after the stock sunk in 2019 partly due to a spat with former boss Peter Moyo over his abrupt sacking in June following a dispute over a conflict of interest.

Williamson said that while the hunt for a new CEO was underway, he deferred questions on what stage the process was at and possible time frame to the board.

“I suspect they would like it done in the next few months,” he said

After initially winning a series of victories, Moyo’s case was dismissed in January - a decision he is appealing.

That marked a much-needed win for 175-year-old Old Mutual, whose handling of the matter was criticised by some shareholders and customers, denting the reputation of one of South Africa’s oldest companies.

Williamson said this had some impact on its ability to win new business, with the brand’s image hurt by the issue, though it was hard to isolate this from the much larger impact of a tough economy in South Africa.

Old Mutual’s results from operations - its measure of operating profit - fell 2%, verses a potential decline of as much as 5% flagged in a trading statement earlier in March.

The insurer pointed to economic deterioration in its home market, by far its largest and which tipped into recession this year. Many of its markets outside of South Africa also suffered.

Its adjusted headline earnings per share for the year to Dec. 31 stood at 209.3 cents ($0.1283), versus 195.1 cents a year earlier. Headline earnings per share is the main profit measure in South Africa.

Old Mutual adjusts its figure to account for factors including the break up of its former conglomerate structure into four separate entities - a U.S. asset manager, British wealth manager, African financial services division and a bank - that executives said would fare better alone.

Its shares regained some ground after dropping 8.5% at market open, and were down 5.92% by 0722 GMT, slightly outperforming the local stock market which was down 6%. ($1 = 16.3118 rand) (Reporting by Emma Rumney; Editing by Shailesh Kuber and Christopher Cushing)

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