Suncorp's New Zealand unit lifts first-half profit 81 per cent

Net profit for the Brisbane-based company fell 16 percent to A$452 million ($359 million) for the six months to December 31 - its weakest half-year profit in three and a half years and short of a consensus estimate of A$486 million, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Suncorp said its efforts to find a buyer, a partner or a reinsurance deal for its life insurance unit were progressing well - a move which would see it follow companies like Commonwealth Bank of Australia and National Australia Bank Ltd in cutting exposure to a sector under pressure from offshore competitors.

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The life insurance business, which includes Asteron Life and AA Life (a joint venture with the New Zealand Automobile Association) delivered profit after tax of $17 million, down $1 million on the prior corresponding period, due to short term volatility in experience with prior year favourable experience reversing over the half.

"The New Zealand general insurance business has maintained strong growth and underlying performance", Suncorp said.

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The result echoes that of larger rival Insurance Australia Group, New Zealand's biggest general insurer, which more than tripled first-half earnings on the absence of natural disaster claims.

The board has determined an interim dividend of 33 cents per share. The ASX-listed stock last traded at A$13.32 and has declined 3.9 per cent so far this year.

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It said the result was impacted by natural hazards and timing of investments, including the Business Improvement Program and increased regulatory costs. "Price increases implemented during the half year will continue to flow into the renewal book". In-force premium grew 5%, driven by new business and policy retention.

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