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VIENNA, March 9 (Reuters) - Austrian insurer Uniqa reported on Wednesday a lower profit than it had predicted, citing a difficult business environment, and warned that profits could fall by as much as half this year.
The company, which operates in countries across central and eastern Europe, said in January it would spend 500 million euros ($551.20 million) on revamping its business and its information technology systems, much of which would fall this year.
It said on Wednesday that it would streamline its structure and reduce the number of people on its management board.
"In combination with the persistently difficult conditions, such as the still-moderate economic outlook, ongoing low interest rates, sinking investment income and political uncertainty in individual markets, Uniqa expects a decline in earnings of up to 50 percent in the 2016 financial year," it said.
Earnings before tax last year rose 12 percent to 422.8 million euros, Uniqa said. It had said in November it expected a figure between 425 million euros and 450 million euros.
The insurer's combined ratio - a measure of profitability in the property and casualty segments - improved to 97.8 percent from 99.6 percent, and the firm said it would propose increasing its dividend to 47 cents a share from 2014's 42 cents. ($1=0.9071 euros) (Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Greg Mahlich and Alison Williams)