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Generali to exit weaker markets, says no job cuts planned


(Reuters) — Italy's biggest insurer Assicurazioni Generali S.p.A. has no plans to cut jobs as it looks to raise at least €1 billion ($1.06 billion) by selling businesses in unattractive markets and reducing costs in an effort to boost profit and capital.

Reiterating 2018 targets on Wednesday, Generali said it is reviewing its presence in 13 to 15 countries and aims to cut operating costs in mature markets by €200 million ($212.3 million) over the 2016-19 period.

The moves comes against the backdrop of an insurance sector grappling with low interest rates that have squeezed margins between investment income and returns to policyholders, prompting the likes of Europe's biggest players Allianz S.E. and Axa S.A. to rethink their business models.

Generali shares, which rose sharply on Tuesday after reports by Reuters and business newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore of potential job losses, dropped by nearly 4% on Wednesday, with some analysts expressing concern over the insurer's dividends.

The company denied that it is considering laying off 8,000 workers outside Italy.

"This number does not exist ... there are no redundancies or restructuring plans," CEO Philippe Donnet told reporters on Wednesday.

The withdrawal from its weaker markets will be through disposals and Mr. Donnet said that the group's headcount of about 76,000 had fallen by 1,500 since March through natural wastage, with a slower hiring rate as staff left the company.

Generali, which generates most of its revenue and earnings in Italy, France and Germany, did not specify the markets it is considering leaving, though broker Intermonte SIM S.p.A. said that South American or Benelux countries could be among the candidates.

Mr. Donnet, who took the helm when Mario Greco left to join rival Zurich Insurance in March, said Generali is aiming for a 15% productivity boost by 2019.

"Our goal is leadership in our chosen markets, not measured by size but by profitability," he said.

Europe's third-largest insurer said its strategy is not based on mergers and acquisitions but added that it is open to reinvesting the €1 billion ($1.06 billion) from disposals if the right opportunity arises.

The company, which gave no details on solvency capital targets, said it intends to change the business mix of its life operations by shifting to more capital-light products.

Generali is more focused than its main rivals on capital-intensive traditional life products rather than unit-linked or index-linked policies.

It stuck to its targets to generate more than €7 billion ($7.43 billion) in cash by 2018 and pay more than €5 billion ($5.31 billion) in dividends. Analysts at Intermonte said its own dividend estimates were below the targets given by Generali.

"We believe consensus could be revised downwards," they said.

Generali shares were down 3.9% at €11.20 ($11.89) by 1159 GMT, against a 0.8% decline for the European insurance sector.