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(Reuters) — Zurich Insurance Group Ltd. announced a dividend increase on Thursday following a 24% jump in annual profit, and said that would set a floor for future payouts.
Europe’s fifth-largest insurance company said its cost savings plan was on track and business operating profit rose 20% last year to $4.6 billion, driven by underlying growth across the business, particularly in life, and underwriting improvements in property/casualty.
Still, insurance premiums rose modestly, to $49.5 billion from $49.1 billion in 2017, and were unlikely to show much growth this year.
“I expect top line to be pretty flat in 2019,” finance chief George Quinn told reporters.
Zurich said it was well on track to deliver on its financial targets for the 2017-2019 period with $1.1 billion in cumulative net cost savings achieved.
“We still have about $400 million (in savings) to deliver pretax. That would be rightly the biggest driver of the additional improvement that we expect to see from the group in 2019,” Mr. Quinn said.
The insurer’s share price was up 0.8% by 0940 GMT, and analysts said the results overall were positive.
“With underlying progress being visible and investment income improving, ZIG appears on track to achieve its 2019 financial targets. Trading at 11.4x FY19E EPS and 1.44x book value, we believe good news is priced into the stock and confirm our Hold rating,” analysts at Vontobel said in a note.
Mr. Quinn said the dividend increase to 19 francs, from 18 francs last year, was a “new floor. We don’t expect a reduction.”
He also played down potential disruption from Britain’s exit from the European Union due next month. “We are ready for all those different permutations that come here,” he said.
Zurich has the advantage of an EU-licensed insurance platform based in Dublin. Britain and Switzerland have agreed to allow insurers to trade freely between the two countries after Brexit, Britain’s finance ministry said last month.
Zurich’s net profit for the year through December 2018 jumped 24% to $3.72 billion, beating a forecast of $3.48 billion by analysts polled by Infront Data.
“We have continued to strengthen our profitability and lower costs while growing our business, expanding our global footprint and broadening our range of innovative solutions to meet the changing needs of customers,” Chief Executive Mario Greco said in a statement. “This performance gives us great confidence as we enter the next phase of our development over the year ahead.”
Zurich Benelux, part of Zurich Insurance Group Ltd., and Accenture PLC have developed a blockchain-based system to help the insurer’s customers in the Benelux region manage surety bonds, Zurich said in a statement Tuesday.