March 7, 2013 / 9:56 AM / 5 years ago

UPDATE 1-S.Africa's Sanlam FY profit growth lags consensus

* Diluted headline EPS at 287 cents vs 250 cents

* Consensus: 298 cents

* Dividend, special dividend totals 215 cents (Add details, shares)

JOHANNESBURG, March 7 (Reuters) - South Africa’s biggest life insurer, Sanlam Ltd, reported a smaller-than-expected 15 percent rise in full-year profit on Thursday as consumers refrained from taking up new policies.

But shares in Sanlam rose about 1 percent after the Cape Town-based company declared a forecast-beating dividend and a special dividend.

Sanlam said diluted headline earnings per share totalled 287 cents in the year to end-December, from 250 cents a year earlier.

That was well below the 298 cents in a Thomson Reuters StarMine estimate, which gives more weight to top-ranked analysts.

Headline EPS, the benchmark profit measure in South Africa, excludes certain one-time items.

South African insurers are struggling to write new policies as unemployment, high personal debt levels and a tentative economic growth eat into consumers’ deposable income.

But a rally in domestic equity and bond markets over the last year, which boosts fees earned on assets under their management, has helped them maintain some growth.

Sanlam, which owns a controlling stake in domestic short term insurer Santam, lifted its annual dividend by 27 percent to 165 cents per share and said it would pay an additional 50 cents in a special dividend.

StarMine had predicted a dividend payout of 16 cents per share.

The company’s stock picked up 0.7 percent to 48.04 rand by 0916 GMT, largely in line with the JSE Top-40 index. (Reporting by Tiisetso Motsoeneng; editing by David Dolan)

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