MILAN, March 16 (Reuters) - Italy's biggest insurer Generali hiked its 2016 dividend on Thursday and pledged higher shareholder returns going forward after posting its best net profit in nine years.
Generali, which is seeking to boost its defences against the threat of a possible takeover, also said it would deliver on its promise to cut costs by 200 million euros a year earlier in 2018 rather than 2019.
The insurer, which said it was confident in a future as an independent company, declared a dividend of 0.8 euros per share on its 2016 results, up from 0.72 euros a share the previous year.
Net profits last year rose 2.5 percent to 2.081 billion euros ($2.2 billion), in line with an analyst consensus provided by the company, boosted by better life and non-life business.
The insurer emerged as a potential bid target in January when Italy's biggest retail bank Intesa Sanpaolo revealed that it was looking at a potential combination, a plan that Intesa later scrapped.
$1 = 0.9313 euros Reporting by Stephen Jewkes and Gianluca Semeraro, editing by Silvia Aloisi