* Unconsolidated premiums rise 9.5 pct to 9.9 bln eur
* Profit before tax projected at around 585 mln eur
* Sees combined ratio of around 97 pct despite bad weather (Adds details and background)
VIENNA, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Vienna Insurance Group on Thursday projected 2012 profit before tax would rise around 5 percent to about 585 million euros ($777 million), just shy of market expectations.
Emerging Europe’s biggest insurer said unconsolidated premiums rose 9.5 percent to around 9.9 billion euros last year as the upward trend in all segments continued.
Excluding special effects from the single premium business at a life insurance business, premiums rose 2.2 percent, it said, and by over 3 percent adjusted for currency swings.
“Despite the heavy financial burden caused by severe weather conditions, the group will record an excellent combined ratio of around 97 percent for the year 2012,” it added.
Analysts polled by Reuters expected 2012 group gross written premiums to rise on average 8.1 percent to 9.6 billion euros and profit before tax of 593 million, up 6.1 percent.
The preliminary 2012 data showed life insurance premiums advanced 17.8 percent, driven by strong demand for single-premium products, especially in Poland. Premiums in the property/casualty segment rose by 2.5 percent and in the health segments by 8.6 percent, it said.
The Austrian group’s focus on central and eastern Europe has paid off, with more than half the group’s premiums and revenue coming from the CEE region.
Strong business in these markets had helped third-quarter pretax profit at the group rise 7.3 percent to 141.5 million euros, it said in November.
Its combined ratio - a measure of underwriting profitability - had been 96.9 percent for the first nine months of the year despite high claims due to severe weather.
Its chief executive told reporters last year the group was reviewing “two or three” potential takeover candidates in the CEE region in deals that would be worth less than 100 million euros.
$1 = 0.7530 euros Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by David Cowell