Swiss Life, Switzerland’s largest life insurer, more than doubled its net profit in 2004, to SFr624 million ($515 million) from SFr233 million the year before.
CEO Rolf Dörig said the company was stronger financially after a period of restructuring. The result, which was above analysts’ expectations, was the company’s highest annual profit since 2000.
In a statement on Tuesday, Swiss Life said it planned to pay out a dividend of SFr4 per share – the first payout in four years - after investment income and capital gains rose 14 per cent to SFr6.7 billion.
Gross premiums grew eight per cent to SFr20.3 billion.
Within Switzerland, Swiss Life reinforced its market position. Premiums grew eight per cent in 2004, after falling by around one fifth the year before.
Zurich-based Swiss Life, which has cut costs in recent years by shedding jobs and selling businesses, said it envisaged being able to match the SFr4-franc dividend in the coming years.
"We will put ourselves in a position to pay our shareholders a dividend in the future that is at or above this year’s level," it said.
Dörig returned the company to profit in 2003 by cutting more than 1,500 jobs and selling businesses after the company posted an SFr1.7 billion loss in 2002.
Swiss Life was helped last year by one-off gains of SFr164 million resulting from changes in the pensions system that allowed the company to release reserves for future payouts.
Dörig said the company could now "view the future with confidence".
"We made a substantial improvement in our results, grew our market share and reinforced our financial strength," he told reporters. "We are more than committed to delivering on our targets."
The CEO said the goal was still to reach a "sustainable" return on equity of more than ten per cent and to record growth in all markets.
Swiss Life stock has gained more than ten per cent this year, and 80 per cent since Dörig took the helm in November 2002.
Since then the company has refocused on life insurance after expanding in asset management in the 1990s, including the acquisition of the Lugano-based Banca del Gottardo in 1999.
After failing to find a buyer for the bank last year, Swiss Life raised SFr1.15 billion in shares and convertible bonds to transfer ownership from policyholders to shareholders.
In February, the insurer agreed to sell parts of its La Suisse subsidiary to a smaller Swiss insurer, Vaudoise.
At the same time it announced the merger of La Suisse's life insurance business with its own, and the takeover of the Vaudoise group life insurance business - a move aimed at increasing the company's share of the Swiss life insurance market.
In further restructuring, Swiss Life sold its British life insurance business last December, indicating its wish to return to core business by exiting the British market.
swissinfo with agencies
Swiss Life results 2004:
Net profit: SFr624 million (+ SFr391 million)
Gross written premiums: SFr2.3 billion
Profit per share: SFr20.50 (+ SFr11.67)
Total insurance pay-outs: SFr15.2 billion
Employees: 9,419 full-time positions (-596)
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