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Generali's quarterly profit underpinned by asset management business


(Reuters) — Assicurazioni Generali S.p.A., Italy's biggest insurer, said on Thursday its operating profits were down 5.6% so far this year but despite low interest rates the performance had improved in the third quarter, helped by solid results from its asset management unit.

Chief Financial Officer Alberto Minali said despite a difficult trading environment earnings were proving resilient and full-year expectations for profits and dividends contained in its latest business plan remained unchanged.

Europe's third-biggest insurance company said in a statement on Thursday that earnings before interest and tax in the first nine months fell to €3.6 billion ($3.9 billion), in line with the consensus of analysts' forecasts, but EBIT in the third quarter was up 7.3%.

It said its 'economic' solvency ratio based on the E.U.'s Solvency II principles but calculated using internal models, stood at 188% of minimum capital requirements at the end of September, unchanged from three months earlier.

Most analysts said the results were sound, although Bernstein's Thomas Seidl said the market was "far too optimistic about Generali's future earnings power, which will be severely impacted by the low interest rate environment."

Mr. Minali said the insurer had so far received claims for €16 million ($17.5 million) following the earthquake that hit central Italy on Oct. 30, but the figure is likely to go up and most of the impact will be felt in the fourth quarter.

The stock has lost 30% of its value since the start of the year, compared with a 14% drop for the Stoxx Europe sector index, but Mr. Minali said interest among investors remained strong.

He declined to comment on the insurer's exposure to troubled Italian lender Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, currently in the midst of a major capital raising.

He said, however, that Generali had an exposure to the banking sector equal to 1% of its assets, and 40% of that was linked to subordinated bonds.

He later added that the insurer holds some Monte dei Paschi bonds and is awaiting to hear the terms of the conversion offer.