May 16, 2019 / 6:59 AM / in 4 days

Just Group to shut U.S. operations as first-quarter sales drop

LONDON (Reuters) - Specialist pension provider Just Group said on Thursday it would shut its loss-making U.S. operations as part of a cost-cutting program, as it posted a 59% fall in retirement income sales in the first quarter.

Just Group, which specializes in annuities for people with a reduced life expectancy, has been suffering from the prospect of new rules from Britain’s Prudential Regulation Authority requiring more capital to be put behind lifetime mortgages, one of its key products. The rules come into force later this year.

Chief Executive Rodney Cook stood down last month, following the departure last year of the company’s chief financial officer.

Just Group in March announced a discounted share issue, raised 375 million pounds ($481.46 million) in capital, and canceled its 2018 dividend after delaying it last year. It also pushed back its capital breakeven point to 2022.

“We have a plan in place to ensure we achieve this (breakeven) target, which includes a number of actions we will be taking over the course of this year,” said David Richardson, Interim Group Chief Executive.

In addition to cutting loss-making business such as the United States, Just Group said it would focus more on cost control and using capital-efficient assets.

Retirement income sales fell to 184 million pounds ($236.40 million) as bulk annuities - insurance of company defined benefit, or final salary pension schemes - dropped 90 percent to 26 million pounds.

However, Just Group said it had already completed bulk annuity deals totaling more than 300 million pounds in the second quarter.

Individual sales of annuities, pensions which pay a fixed income for life, fell 23% to 145 million pounds and lifetime mortgage sales dropped 47% to 79 million pounds.

Lifetime, or equity release, mortgages enable home-owners to borrow against the value of their property, a loan which is paid back when they die.

Barclays analysts reiterated their ‘Overweight’ rating on the company, highlighting the management actions to improve capital efficiency, and saying its shares had been “overly punished”.

Reporting by Carolyn Cohn; Editing by Rachel Armstrong

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