UPDATE 3-Manulife profit lags estimate; soft N. America offsets Asia gain

Thu Nov 13, 2014 4:36pm EST
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(Adds CEO comments on potential share buybacks)

By Manya Venkatesh and Jeffrey Hodgson

Nov 13 (Reuters) - Manulife Financial Corp reported slightly lower-than-expected third-quarter earnings on Thursday as weaker Canadian and U.S. insurance and wealth management sales offset strong growth in Asia.

Manulife, Canada's largest insurer, earns the bulk of its profit in North America but also has a fast-growing Asian unit.

Wealth management sales fell 15 percent in Canada and 6 percent in the United States. Insurance sales fell 19 percent in the United States, where Manulife owns John Hancock, and slumped 23 percent in Canada.

This was in sharp contrast to strong sales in markets such as Japan, Hong Kong and Indonesia.

Toronto-based Manulife said insurance sales rose 46 percent in Asia, while wealth management sales surged 74 percent. Core Asian earnings, which excluded hedging costs and other items, increased 17 percent.

"The fundamental case for Asia is unchanged," Chief Financial Officer Steve Roder told Reuters, citing favorable economic and market trends. "I'm not suggesting we will maintain 17 percent, but we'd expect to continue to see healthy growth in Asia."

Total revenue rose 75 percent to C$11.04 billion ($9.76 billion), but missed the analysts' average estimate of C$11.54 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.   Continued...