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MetLife profit rises 63% to $2.16 billion on derivatives

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(Bloomberg) — MetLife Inc., the largest U.S. life insurer, said first-quarter profit rose 63 percent on derivative gains and improved results at the operation that sells group policies and coverage through workplaces.

Net income advanced to $2.16 billion from $1.33 billion a year earlier, New York-based MetLife said Wednesday in a statement. Operating profit, which excludes some investing results, was $1.44 a share, beating the $1.41 average estimate in a Bloomberg survey of 16 analysts.

“Met has recently taken steps to improve capital return and improve free cash flow, which we see as a tailwind for the stock in the long run,” Thomas Gallagher, an analyst at Credit Suisse Group AG, wrote in a note to clients before earnings were released.

MetLife has been focusing on products like dental insurance and disability coverage after scaling back from some capital- intensive products like variable annuities, where results can be more tied to fluctuations in financial markets. The workplace- benefits operation is part of the Americas unit led by Bill Wheeler, who is slated to leave the company in August.

Latin America

Wheeler, the former chief financial officer, also helped integrate American Life Insurance Co., which MetLife bought for about $16 billion in 2010. He also worked with Chief Executive Officer Steve Kandarian to expand in Latin American nations including Chile.

MetLife climbed 0.4 percent to $52 in extended trading at 4:45 p.m. in New York. The stock slipped 4.3 percent this year through the close of regular trading in New York, compared with the 7.5 percent fall of Prudential Financial Inc., the No. 2 U.S. life insurer. Results were released after 4 p.m.

Prudential said after Wednesday’s close that quarterly profit rose 66 percent to $2.04 billion. Operating income at the Newark, New Jersey-based insurer was $2.79 a share, beating the $2.39 average estimate of 16 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Prudential advanced 1.1 percent in extended trading.

MetLife’s operating investment income slipped 2 percent to $4.98 billion on lower gains from alternative holdings, a group that includes private-equity bets.

Book Value

Book value, a measure of assets minus liabilities, rose to $64.37 a share from $61.85 three months earlier. MetLife recorded $534 million in gains tied to derivatives, reflecting the weakening of foreign currencies and lower interest rates.

Operating earnings at the Americas division, MetLife’s largest, rose 4.3 percent to $1.38 billion.

The figure at the segment selling workplace coverage climbed 20 percent to $228 million. The retail unit’s operating income rose 2.7 percent to $653 million. Latin America posted a 17 percent decline, to $131 million, pressured by currency fluctuations.

The Asia division, led by Christopher Townsend, contributed $327, a decrease of 1.8 percent from a year earlier. The Europe, Middle East and Africa region overseen by Michel Khalaf had a profit of $70 million, down from $71 million a year earlier.