Zurich sees no threat to dividend policy from Sandy storm

Zurich Insurance Group said it can maintain its dividend policy despite an estimated $700 million in damage claims relating to super storm Sandy.

"We are striving for a sustainable and attractive dividend. This philosophy is unchanged. And at present there is no cause to deviate from it," Chief Executive Martin Senn told the SonntagsZeitung newspaper in an interview.

Zurich, which reports its full-year results on February 14, paid a dividend of 17 Swiss francs per share last year.

Senn said claims from Sandy, which hit the United States in October, would burden the fourth-quarter results but he didn't expect the company to have to revise its claims estimate.

Sandy is expected ultimately to be the second-costliest catastrophe in U.S. history, with insured loss estimates as high as $25 billion. The costliest catastrophe was hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Senn said Zurich was on track to cut costs by $500 million by the end of 2013. At the end of the third-quarter Zurich had cut expenses by $200 million.

He added he was confident that the group's AA rating would be confirmed, despite ratings agency Standard & Poor's downgrading the outlook for the insurance sector to negative.

Senn said Zurich was also making good progress on its target for 30 percent of new life insurance business to come from Latin American and Asian markets.

"We're well on our way there and are even moving in the direction of 40 to 50 percent."

(Reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by Alison Birrane)