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Uniqa boosts 2006 profit 24% on life-insurance growth

Uniqa Versicherungen AG, an Austrian insurer, boosted 2006 pretax earnings 24% as life-insurance sales in eastern Europe climbed.

Pretax profit rose to €235 million ($305 million) from €190 million the year before, Vienna-based Uniqa Versicherungen AG said today in a statement. Premiums climbed 6.8% to €5.1 million. „The results are quite good,” said Paul Wessely, an analyst at Creditanstalt Investment Bank in Vienna who rates the stock „hold.” „They exceeded our estimates.” Uniqa is expanding in eastern Europe through partnerships and acquisitions, tapping economic growth as people in former communist countries buy homes, cars, insurance and other financial products for the first time.

Uniqa's international premiums advanced 21% in 2006, compared with 1% premium growth within Austria. Eastern Europeans spend an average of $151 a year on insurance compared with $2,727 per person in western Europe, according to Vienna Insurance Group, Austria's largest insurer. „Companies in the Uniqa group were able to grow particularly strongly in foreign markets,” CEO Konstantin Klien said. The share of premiums earned abroad „increased this past year to about 32%” from 10% in 2002.

The Austrian insurer „will propose a clear increase in dividend payments” when it holds its annual shareholders' meeting May 21. The company paid a 26 cent-a-share dividend last year. Uniqa's 2007 profit will be around the 2006 level, Klien said. The insurer aims to almost double pretax profit to €430 million by 2010 by reducing costs and increasing income from underwriting. The shares added 5 cents, or 0.2%, to €25 as of 9:38 a.m. in Vienna. (Bloomberg)