* Profit slides due to markets
* Result tops estimates
* Expects U.S. annuity deal to close by end Q2
By Cameron French
TORONTO, May 8 (Reuters) - Sun Life Financial said on Wednesday its first-quarter profit fell by 25 percent, but topped estimates, as Canada's No. 3 insurer was hurt by less favorable financial markets than in the year-before period.
The Toronto-based company earned C$513 million ($511.54 million), or 85 Canadian cents a share, in the quarter ended March 31. That compared with a year-ago profit of C$686 million, or C$1.15 per share.
Analysts had expected a profit of 66 Canadian cents a share, according to Thomson I/B/E/S.
Equity and bond market movements added C$46 million to profit during the quarter, compared to C$348 million in the year-before quarter, the company said.
Sun Life has spent the last year working to reduce its market exposure and announced in December it was selling its U.S. annuity business - which carries sizable market exposures - for $1.35 billion. That sale is expected to close before the end of the second quarter.
On a continuing operations basis, which excludes the impact of the U.S. annuity business, Sun Life earned C$410 million, up from C$405 million.
Total premiums and deposits rose to C$28.9 billion from C$25.1 billion. Return on equity was 14.3 percent, compared with 20.9 percent in the first quarter of 2011.
Sun Life, which among its operations owns Boston-based MFS Investment Management, has set an objective of C$2 billion in operating profit by 2015 and is targeting outsized growth in its Asian division to help make it happen.
Sun Life rival Manulife Financial Corp last week reported a 56 percent drop in first-quarter earnings on Thursday, citing weaker sales of its life insurance and less favorable market conditions.