Prudential says net profits nearly double in first half

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British insurance giant Prudential said Friday that net profits almost doubled in the first half of the year, boosted by strength in Asia and the United States, and hiked its shareholder dividend.

Profit after tax jumped to £861 million ($1.4 billion, 990 million euros) in the six months to June, compared with £442 million a year earlier, Prudential said in a results statement.

Operating profit, which excludes tax and interest payments, increased 25 percent to £1.06 billion, as the company brushed off its failure to buy AIA, the Asian arm of US insurer AIG, for $35.5 billion last year.

The operating figure -- which is widely watched by the market -- beat market expectations for underlying profit of £963 million, according to analysts polled by Dow Jones Newswires.

Prudential also ramped up its interim shareholder dividend by 20 percent to 7.95 pence a share.

"We have reported another good performance in the first half of 2011," chief executive Tidjane Thiam said in the earnings release.

"We have continued to concentrate on the fast growing and highly profitable markets of South-East Asia and the positive momentum of 2010 has been maintained during the first half of this year."

Thiam added: "We expect to see continued, profitable and cash generative growth in the second half of 2011."

However in afternoon trade, Prudential shares were down 1.98 percent to 617.50 pence on London's FTSE 100 index of top companies amid a fierce global sell-off on world financial markets.

Analysts were reassured by the results despite the share price fall.

"Overall, this is a strong set of numbers from Prudential, which should see continued growth given its strong exposure to emerging markets and highlights the stock's longer term potential," said analysts at Dolmen Stockbrokers.

The FTSE was down 2.22 percent at 5,273.39 points amid heightened concern over the prospect of a sharp global economic downturn, dealers said.

© 2011 AFP

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