February 6, 2013 / 7:17 AM / 5 years ago

UPDATE 2-Pohjola insurance business disappoints, shares fall

* Non-life insurance pretax profit 10 mln vs 27 mln in poll

* Sees increase in full-year pretax profit

* Shares fall 6.5 pct (Recasts with non-life weakness, adds analyst)

HELSINKI, Feb 6 (Reuters) - Finland’s Pohjola Bank reported a smaller-than-expected fourth-quarter profit from its non-life insurance business due to higher claims, disappointing investors who saw the unit as the group’s strength.

Nordic financial institutions have been safe havens during the euro zone crisis, thanks to strong capital and good profitability. But they have lately been weighed down by tougher regulations and low interest rates.

Pohjola said it expected 2013 pretax profit to be higher than the 374 million euros it reported for 2012. But it also said Finland’s economy would grow slowly at best, and that the operating environment would remain challenging.

Pohjola’s shares fell 6.5 percent after it said non-life insurance pretax profit was 10 million euros ($13.53 million).

That compared to a loss of 63 million a year earlier but was much lower than an average profit forecast of 27.4 million euros in a Reuters poll. It said claims rose by 29 percent, with large claims increasing in particular, but did not give more details.

“The non-life insurance business had been their best business,” said Handelsbanken analyst Matti Ahokas. “Companies’ claims have been on the rise. The biggest question is whether that is a normal variation or if that indicates a trend.”

The non-life business’s operating combined ratio - a key measure of underwriting profitability which expresses costs and claims expenses as a proportion of premium income - weakened to 95.3 percent from 91.0 percent a year ago, also missing a consensus market forecast.

On a consolidated basis, however, Pohjola’s earnings beat market expecatations thanks to higher net commission and fees as well as spending cuts introduced in September.

Its quarterly consolidated earnings before tax rose to 92 million euros from 13 million euros a year ago, beating the market consensus of 91 million euros.

Shares in Pohjola Bank were down 6.5 percent at 11.58 euros by 1003 GMT.

Ahokas said analysts may cut their estimates for this year following the report. ($1 = 0.7392 euros) (Reporting by Terhi Kinnunen; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)

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