* Manulife initially set earnings target in 2012
* Target had been in doubt earlier in year
* Earnings per share C$1.96 vs C$1.85 average forecast
(Adds comment from CFO, background on target)
By Matt Scuffham
TORONTO, Feb 9 Canada's biggest insurer Manulife
Financial Corp met a long-held target to achieve an
annual profit of C$4 billion in 2016 while exceeding analyst
expectations, helped by a strong performance in Asia.
The performance represents a landmark for Manulife, which
initially set a goal in 2012 to achieve annual earnings of C$4
billion ($3.1 billion) by 2015 but later pushed back its
expectation to 2016, citing tougher economic conditions.
The company then warned last February it would be difficult
to achieve the target in 2016, partly because weak oil prices
had hit the value of its investments in the energy sector.
However, a partial recovery in the price of oil and a better
performance from its fixed income investments helped it achieve
"Earlier in the year I was not sure that we would achieve
that and that's a real landmark for the company. I think it
bodes very well for us as an organisation," Chief Financial
Officer Steve Roder said in an interview on Thursday.
The company's core earnings, excluding one-off items and
market movements, totaled C$4.02 billion ($3.06 billion), or
C$1.96 Canadian cents per share in the full year, compared with
C$3.43 million, or C$1.68 Canadian cents per share, a year
earlier. Analysts on average had expected earnings of C$1.85 per
share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
That growth was driven by investment gains of C$197 million
and benefited from improved results in Asia, where insurance
sales surged by a record 27 percent compared to 2015.
"Underlying earnings growth remained impressive,
particularly in Asia, which should continue to fuel a positive
outlook," said analyst John Aiken of Barclays Capital in
Manulife reported an 11 percent increase in its quarterly
dividend to C$0.205 per share.
Manulife is expanding in Asia as the region's burgeoning
middle class looks to save and invest. It has benefited from a
partnership with Singapore's DBS Group, agreed in 2015, in which
Manulife sells its products through the lender's Asian branch
Shares in Manulife have risen by more than a quarter since
Donald Trump's election as U.S. president in November, driven by
expectations Trump's plans to spend billions on infrastructure
and other initiatives to boost growth in the U.S. economy will
lead to inflation and higher interest rates.
($1 = 1.3120 Canadian dollars)
(Editing by Bernadette Baum)