Life products boost insurers

City A.M. Reporter
EUROPEAN insurers were yesterday buoyed by strong sales of life insurance and asset management products on the back of a reviving economy in the first quarter, offsetting big disaster damage claims.

Germany’s Allianz, Italy’s Assicurazioni Generali, the Netherlands’ Aegon and Belgium’s Ageas, formerly known as Fortis, all reported strong first quarters as consumers’ fears began to ease after the financial crisis.

“People are more willing to store money at insurance companies. We see that strongly in the United States and also in the Netherlands,” said Aegon finance director. “It is a bit less so in Britain and Spain but you should also not forget that in Asia, where economies have rebounded earlier, demand has increased.”

Insurers’ better-than-expected earnings echoed those of rivals over the past two weeks, when UK firms such as Aviva and Standard Life and US peers MetLife and Prudential Financial reported increasing investment income and demand for savings products.

Brightening insurance prospects also provided fuel for the market debut of Poland’s top insurer, PZU, whose $2.7bn (£1.8bn) flotation yesterday was the biggest in Europe in two years. Its share rose 13 per cent.

Allianz booked net profit of €1.59bn (£1.35bn), compared with just €424m a year earlier when fallout from the financial crisis weighed.

Like other insurers, however, Allianz faced a bigger-than-expected hit from natural catastrophe claims in the first quarter and said its full-year profit target could be threatened if there is no let up in disaster-linked losses. Allianz did not expect Greece’s sovereign debt crisis to derail economic recovery, and neither Allianz nor Aegon significantly changed their Greek exposure, as opposed to Ageas, which sold €4bn worth of southern European bonds.

Italy’s Generali topped forecasts with a five-fold increase in net profit.