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TORONTO (Reuters) - Manulife Financial Corp said on Thursday its first-quarter profit rose by more than 50 percent as a stronger investment performance and higher wealth management fees more than offset weaker insurance sales, but the results just missed analysts' estimates.
Manulife, Canada's biggest life insurer, said net income attributed to shareholders was C$818 million ($745.36 million), or 42 Canadian cents per share, compared with C$540 million, or 28 Canadian cents a share, a year earlier.
Core profit, which excludes one-time items and market-related gains and losses, rose to 37 Canadian cents per share from 32 Canadian cents. The analysts' average estimate was 39 Canadian cents a share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
The company said it had benefited from higher fee income, lower hedging costs and a stronger U.S. dollar.
Besides its Canadian operations, Manulife owns U.S. insurer John Hancock and is growing in Asia, where it is in about a dozen countries.
Insurance sales in the quarter fell 15 percent to C$537 million, while wealth sales climbed 5 percent to C$13.8 billion, Manulife said.
Manulife has spent the last few years reducing its exposure in financial markets after taking billions in losses during the financial crisis.
It has also been slowly shifting its business away from life insurance and toward wealth management, which has lower capital requirements, predictable fee-based income and the promise of increased clients as baby boomers approach retirement and increasingly need money management.
Manulife stock, which fell more than 75 percent between 2007 and 2012, rebounded 55 percent last year. Year-to-date, the shares are down 2 percent, and closed at C$20.58 on Wednesday.
($1 = 1.0975 Canadian dollars)
Reporting by Cameron French; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn