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Aviva, Friends Life shares surge as 2014 earnings beat estimates

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(Bloomberg) — Aviva Plc and Friends Life Group Ltd., the British insurers in the middle of an $8.6 billion takeover, rose to the highest in at least six years after reporting better- than-expected earnings for 2014.

Aviva’s operating profit rose 6 percent to 2.2 billion pounds ($3.3 billion) from 2013, while Friends Life reported a 38 percent increase to 556 million pounds. Both insurers increased their dividends, with results beating estimates of analysts compiled by the companies.

Aviva agreed to buy Friends Life in December to boost cash and pay down debt, accelerating Chief Executive Officer Mark Wilson’s turnaround plan since he joined the insurer in 2013. Shareholders vote on the deal on March 26, which is expected to result in some 1,500 job losses as part of an estimated 225 million pounds in annual savings if approved.

“Every day the shares have moved in lock step with each other since the deal was announced,” said Friends Life CEO Andy Briggs in a telephone interview on Thursday. “The market clearly believes the deal is going to happen which shows the strength of investor support.”

Aviva’s shares rose as much as 6.5 percent, and were trading at 564 pence at 2:30 p.m. in London, up 6 percent. That’s the highest intraday level since September 2008. Friends Life jumped 5.6 percent to the highest since April 2009.

Wilson told reporters that the earnings “confirm the assumptions that both parties had going into this transaction.”

In the U.K., the companies were hurt by government changes to the retirement industry which sent sales of individual annuities lower. The changes, which give retirees greater freedom with their pension savings, take effect next month. Both CEOs said the companies are ready for the impact.

Aviva’s value of new business, an indication of future profits, for its U.K. life insurance unit was little changed at 473 million pounds as its bulk annuities business helped offset a drop in the product sold to retirees. At Friends Life, which doesn’t participate in the bulk annuity market, the new business value dropped 47 million pounds to 132 million pounds.


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