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Prudential surges after beating estimates, raising dividend

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(Bloomberg) — Prudential Plc, the U.K.’s biggest insurer by market value, climbed to a record in London trading after beating analysts’ earnings estimates, raising its dividend and reaching its target to double profit in Asia.

Operating profit climbed 17 percent to 2.95 billion pounds ($4.9 billion) in 2013, London-based Prudential said today in a statement, above the 2.83 billion-pound median estimate of 24 analysts surveyed by the company. The full-year payout increased to 33.57 pence per share, above the 31.56 pence per share estimate.

The shares rose as much as 5.8 percent. Prudential, which gets about half its revenue from Asia, said new business profit in the region was 1.46 billion pounds, more than double the 2009 level and completing the last of six targets the company set in 2010. In the Asian market, the “pie grows faster than our ability to eat it,” Chief Executive Officer Tidjane Thiam said in a Bloomberg Television interview.

“The Asian business is proving resilient in the face of emerging market currency volatility and macro-economic growth concerns,” Edward Houghton and John Gately, analysts at Sanford C. Bernstein in London, said in an e-mailed note after the results, repeating their outperform rating on Prudential.

Operating profit from Asia rose 16 percent to 1.08 billion pounds. Prudential also said it extended its partnership in the region with Standard Chartered Plc by 15 years, and will expand the venture to more Asian and African nations.

Standard Chartered, the London-based lender that makes most of its profit in Asia, is the exclusive seller of Prudential’s life insurance in nine countries, including India, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam.

No spinoff yet

The African insurance market is “like Asia in the 1990s,” Thiam said on Bloomberg Television.

The stock rose 4.1 percent to 1,417 pence a share at 9:35 a.m. in London, valuing the firm at about 36.3 billion pounds. The shares climbed 35 percent in the 12 months through yesterday, outpacing the 24 percent gain by the 19-member FTSE 350 Insurance Index.

Thiam said in 2012 that doubling profit in Asia by the end of 2013 would provide the unit with enough cash to fund itself, potentially leading to a spinoff.

The CEO said today in an interview that Prudential was “not there yet,” and that a potential spinoff was “just another option.”

Prudential announced in December that it plans to generate at least 10 billion pounds in cash in the next four years. It follows British insurance peers Legal & General Group Plc, Standard Life Plc and Aviva Plc in raising their dividends.

Prudential Plc has no relation to Newark, New Jersey-based Prudential Financial Inc.