Asia boosts Prudential profits, euro zone holds no fear

Prudential , Britain's biggest insurer, reported a better than expected 14 percent rise in nine-month profits on Tuesday, helped by growth in its key Asian markets, and said it should outperform rivals thanks to limited exposure to the euro zone.

Prudential's new business profit rose to 1.53 billion pounds ($2.45 billion), just ahead of the consensus market forecast of 1.51 billion according to a poll of analysts conducted by the company.

Prudential shares were up 2.8 percent at 635.5 pence by 0913 GMT, outpacing a 1.2 percent rise in the FTSE 100 share index.

The stock is down 5 percent in the year to date, outperforming an 11 percent fall in the Stoxx Europe 600 insurance index partly because investors view Asia-focused Prudential as relatively immune from the euro zone sovereign debt crisis.

"Whatever happens in Europe we will be less affected than others, we will always do better than others because we are less exposed," Chief Executive Tidjane Thiam told reporters on a conference call.

Prudential began offloading its holdings of peripheral eurozone sovereign debt as long ago as early 2009 and its exposure is now limited to 48 million pounds of Italian government bonds and 1 million pounds of Spanish notes, Thiam said.

"Prudential has delivered another powerful performance, with almost all of the metrics ahead of ours and the market's expectations," Shore Capital analyst Eamonn Flanagan wrote in a note.

Prudential, founded in London 163 years ago, first began doing business in Asia in the 1920s, and the region accounted for 40 percent of its sales and a quarter of its profit in 2010.

The group's total sales in the first nine months of 2011 rose 10 percent to 2.70 billion pounds, beating the 2.67 billion pounds pencilled in by analysts.

Sales in Asia rose 8 percent to 1.147 billion pounds, accounting for 42 percent of the total.

Prudential is making "good progress" towards financial targets it set itself a year ago, including a doubling of pretax profits from life insurance and asset management between 2009 and 2013, Thiam added.

The targets were introduced to help appease shareholders irked by Prudential's aborted $35 billion attempt to buy Hong Kong-based rival AIA in 2010.

The failed deal left Prudential to shoulder 377 million pounds in fees, and prompted calls for Thiam and chairman Harvey McGrath to step down. ($1=0.624 British pounds) (Editing by Greg Mahlich)