February 23, 2017 / 7:17 AM / 6 months ago

UPDATE 1-Swiss Re Q4 profit drops 45 pct as disasters weigh

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ZURICH, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Swiss Re, the world's second-largest reinsurer, confirmed its mid-term targets on Thursday even as continued pricing pressure saw its January renewals drop 18 percent.

Fourth-quarter net profit fell 45 percent as claims from natural disasters such as Hurricane Matthew and an earthquake in New Zealand proved costly for the reinsurer.

Pricing pressure coupled with large man-made losses led to a $15 million loss in its corporate solutions business for the quarter.

Its shares were indicated 2 percent lower in pre-market activity.

"Overall market conditions are challenging but rate decreases in property (including natural catastrophe business) and specialty have started to slow down," Swiss Re said.

January renewals fell to $8.5 billion from $10.3 billion the previous year, it said, citing underwriting discipline and reduced capacity.

January renewals act as an important signal of pricing developments.

"Casualty prices remain generally more stable with significant differences by market and product," it said.

Swiss Re and other reinsurers act as financial backstops for insurance companies, helping them cover the cost of claims from natural and man-made disasters.

The industry, which derives a portion of earnings directly from premiums when these exceed loss payouts and another from investments on the huge sums of capital reinsurers must hold, has been squeezed by falling industry prices for years.

Swiss Re proposed raising its regular dividend to 4.85 Swiss francs from 4.60 francs in 2015 and announced a new share buyback programme of up to 1 billion Swiss francs ($990 million).

After a strong result in 2015, when the group's bottom line was boosted by a one-off tax gain and modest catastrophe losses, full-year net profit fell 23 percent to $3.558 billion. That was behind the average estimate of $3.716 billion in a Reuters poll of analysts.

German rival Munich Re posted a 16 percent drop in preliminary full-year profit.

$1 = 1.0103 Swiss francs Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi; Editing by Michael Shields

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