MetLife beats forecasts despite natural disasters

NEW YORK (Reuters) - MetLife Inc <MET.N>, the largest U.S. life insurer, posted a smaller profit on Thursday as natural disasters at home and abroad and a sharp increase in expenses ate into earnings.

But the company beat expectations easily on an operating basis, and shares rose 2.5 percent in after-hours trading.

MetLife, which had already warned of an unexpectedly large catastrophe loss in the quarter because of severe tornadoes in April and May, said disaster losses totaled $174 million in the second quarter. It also took a hit of $44 million from claims and expenses for the March earthquake in Japan.

The company reported a net profit of $1.21 billion, or $1.13 per share, compared with a year-earlier profit of $1.53 billion, or $1.84 per share.

While revenue was up, total expenses rose more than 30 percent, with virtually all categories showing a sharp increase over a year earlier. Late last year, the company acquired the international insurance business Alico from AIG <AIG.N>, bulking it up globally while adding costs.

On an operating basis, excluding investment gains and losses, the company earned $1.24 per share. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S, on average, estimated the company would earn $1.10 per share.

In MetLife's U.S. business, the company said variable annuity sales rose 55 percent to nearly $7 billion, while strength in group life plans drove double-digit gains in the insurance business.

Internationally, Japan and Latin America led improved results, demonstrating the benefits of the company's late-2010 acquisition of Alico.

MetLife also said operating earnings at MetLife Bank fell sharply in the quarter on higher expenses and lower mortgage business.

Earlier this month the company said it would sell the bank, a move analysts said may help it avoid the strongest of the "too big to fail" restrictions being formulated by the government.

(Reporting by Ben Berkowitz; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)