Canada's Manulife seeks new Asia deals to boost growth

Thu May 5, 2016 10:13am EDT
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By Matt Scuffham

(Reuters) - Manulife (MFC.TO: Quote), Canada's biggest life insurer, said it would continue to look for new partners in Asia after strong sales in the region helped it increase its core earnings by 14 percent in the first quarter.

The activation of a bancassurance partnership with DBS in Singapore and Hong Kong helped Manulife's Asian unit push total insurance sales up by 14 percent to C$954 million, more than making up for another quarter of lackluster investment gains.

"We're experiencing very strong growth in many Asian markets. That was partly driven by our new bancassurance distribution agreement with DBS. We've done a number of smaller deals as well and we will continue to look for suitable partners in that way," said Chief Financial Officer Steve Roder.

Manulife agreed to pay $1.2 billion to Singapore's DBS Group Holdings (DBSM.SI: Quote) last April for a 15-year partnership that will let the insurer sell products through the lender's Asian branch network in what is known as the "bancassurance" model.

Strong Asian growth helped Manulife's core earnings to rise nearly 14 percent to C$905 million, or 44 Canadian cents per share, beating analysts average estimate by 1 Canadian cent, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Like other insurance companies, Manulife has been attracted to Asia by the region's burgeoning middle class.

"What we're seeing in Asia is this rapid emergence of a middle class. That's a big, big driver," Roder said in an interview.

Roder said sales in Singapore were up over 500 percent on the year before while Japan saw very strong growth and emerging markets such as Vietnam and the Philippines saw growth of over 50 percent year-on-year.   Continued...

Roy Gori, chief executive of Manulife Asia, speaks at the company's headquarters in Toronto November 12, 2015.  REUTERS/John Tilak