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NEW YORK -- Insurer income continues to soar, according to a survey by the Insurance Services Office Inc. and the National Assn. of Independent Insurers.

Based on reports of insurers that represent about 96% of the country's total property/casualty premium volume, the survey indicates that insurers' net aftertax income for the first nine months of 1997 reached $26.4 billion, a 55.8% increase over the same period last year.

The industry's consolidated surplus grew to an estimated $296.38 billion, a 22.2% increase over what was posted during the first nine months of 1996. The combined ratio also improved to 101.2% during the first nine months of this year, compared with 105.8% during the same period a year ago.

Insurers' aftertax net income for the third quarter of this year stood at $8.32 billion, a 60.6% increase over the same period of 1996.

Sean Mooney, senior vp and economist for the Insurance Information Institute, said in a commentary accompanying the survey that the industry's performance stemmed from a variety of factors, including a drop in catastrophe losses, surging capital gains and modest growth in investment income.