Strong sales in Japan helped a Columbus, Ga., insurer quintuple profits in the fourth quarter of 2004 despite sluggish U.S. sales.[@@]

The voluntary benefits company, Aflac Inc., is reporting $418 million in net income for the latest quarter on $3.5 billion in revenue, up from $73 million in net income on $2.8 billion in revenue for the fourth quarter of 2003.

An improvement in investment performance and release of a $128 million deferred tax asset valuation allowance helped results in the latest quarter. But Aflac, which is best known for selling cancer insurance in Japan, says strong sales of medical insurance and ordinary life insurance in Japan also contributed to the improvement.

Although Aflac is the parent of the famous Aflac Duck, U.S. sales fell 0.5% in the fourth quarter, to $343 million in annualized new premiums.

Aflac hopes to improve U.S. sales this year by recruiting more agents and improving their training, the company says.

Here are some other noteworthy fourth-quarter results:

- StanCorp Financial Group Inc., Portland, Ore., is reporting $51 million in net income for the latest quarter on $558 million in revenue, up from $44 million in net income on $511 million in revenue for the fourth quarter of 2003.

StanCorp, the parent company of Standard Insurance Company, has a big employee benefits division. Sales of new plans and retention of existing accounts were strong in the fourth quarter, and the ratio of claims to premiums fell to 76.7%, from 78.3% in the fourth quarter of 2003.

- Sierra Health Services Inc., Las Vegas, is reporting $28 million in net income for the latest quarter on $333 million in revenue, up from $4.8 million in net income on $373 million in revenue for the fourth quarter of 2003.

Sierra Health, a managed care company, profited from the loss of a major military health coverage contract. Because Sierra Health lost the contract, total health plan enrollment fell to 560,500, from 1.2 million a year earlier. But enrollment in other, more lucrative commercial plans and government health plans rose to 560,400, from 527,700, over that same period.