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Generali beats profit forecast despite Russia impact


(Reuters) — Assicurazioni Generali beat expectations in the first quarter even as impairments on Russia drove net profit lower, a boost for CEO Philippe Donnet who last month won a shareholder battle to keep his job for another three years.

Italy's biggest insurer said Thursday net profit fell 9.3% from a year earlier to €727 million ($762 million), well above an analyst consensus provided by the insurer of €651 million.

“With revenues, margins, earnings and capital all comfortably ahead of consensus, alongside management's reiteration of their plan targets, Generali is performing exceptionally well and appears unaffected by the board level disputes,” said Jefferies analysts, who have a “Hold” rating on the stock.

Shares in Generali were up around 0.5% in morning trade, well outperforming the European insurers' index.

Generali, Europe's No.3 insurer, has been embroiled for months in a feud among its leading shareholders.

Mr. Donnet's challengers lost an April 29 shareholder vote to appoint a new board though they secured three seats, raising concerns tensions would persist. 

Generali booked €136 million in provisions in the quarter. That includes a €96 million hit related to directly held Russian fixed-income instruments and €40 million for a stake in Russian insurer Ingosstrakh.

In a worst-case scenario related to Russia, the company estimates further impairments of €163 million, its head of finance Cristiano Borean told a post-results press briefing.

Generali said exposure to Russian and Ukrainian indirect and unit-linked instruments was “negligible,” for a total of €77 million.

In March, Generali had said it would shut down its operations in Russia and it is also giving up its seats on the board of Ingosstrakh.

The company's stake of 38.5% in Ingosstrakh, one of Russia's largest insurers, is currently “frozen and is not for sale at the moment,” Mr. Borean said.

Generali's operating profit, closely watched by the market, grew 1.1% to €1.63 billion, topping an average analyst consensus of €1.55 billion, the company said.

Its solvency ratio, which measures insurers’ financial strength, proved resilient at 237% at the end of March and stood at 230% as of May 16, Mr. Borean said.