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Generali’s 9-month profit beats expectations, has 1 billion euros left for potential M&A

by Wanda Rich
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MILAN (Reuters) -Italy’s top insurer Generali beat market expectations with its nine-month results on Thursday as its life and asset management segments performed well and said it has about 1 billion euros left to deploy as it continues to look at M&A opportunities.

The company is set to update the market on how it plans to use its available capital on Dec. 15 when it will unveil a new three-year strategic plan, finance chief Cristiano Borean said in a post-results media call.

Chief Executive Philippe Donnet, whose term expires next April, has come under fire from two main shareholders – Italian businessmen Francesco Gaetano Caltagirone and Leonardo Del Vecchio – who have criticised his M&A strategy as too timid and want Generali to grow further.

Generali earmarked up to 4 billion euros ($4.63 billion) for M&A under a three-year strategic plan ending this year.

After a number of acquisitions in Portugal, Greece, eastern Europe and Malaysia, the insurer sealed last month a 1.17 billion euro takeover of smaller rival Cattolica in a move aimed at cementing its domestic market leadership.

“We are still evaluating any M&A opportunities consistent with our discipline. But M&A is not a must,” Borean said, when asked if this capital could be also used for a share buyback.

Generali’s nine-month net profit rose 74% to 2.25 billion euros ($2.60 billion), above the average forecast of 2.13 billion euros in an analyst consensus provided by the company.

Its shares have gained 35% this year and were up 1.6% in early trade on Thursday.

While its life and asset management businesses performed well, non-life business proved resilient despite the higher impact of natural catastrophe claims, the company said in a statement.

Its operating profit, a figure most closely watched by the market, also came above analyst consensus as it rose 10% to 4.4 billion euros. Generali’s solvency ratio, which measures the financial strength of the company, stood at 233% as of Nov. 8, up slightly from 231% at the end of July and 224% at the end of 2020.

The insurer confirmed its target of annual compound growth in 2018-2021 of earnings per share of between 6% and 8%. Return on Equity (ROE) is expected to be higher than 11.5%.

($1 = 0.8648 euros)

(Reporting by Gianluca Semeraro; Editing by Susan Fenton)