May 2, 2013 / 11:20 AM / 4 years ago

Manulife first-quarter profit halves

(Reuters) - Manulife Financial Corp (MFC.TO) MFC.N, Canada's largest life insurer, reported a lower first-quarter profit on weak insurance sales and higher expenses.

Net income fell to C$540 million, or 28 Canadian cents per share, from C$1.22 billion, or 63 Canadian cents per share, a year earlier.

Core earnings for the quarter rose 18 percent to C$619 million, or 32 Canadian cents per share.

Analysts were expecting earnings of 32 Canadian cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Analysts are watching the company's core profit closely as Manulife has set a target of C$4 billion in core profit by 2016, well above the company's 2012 full-year core profit of C$2.19 billion.

Insurance sales fell 23 percent to C$619 million due to tax changes and pricing actions related to lower interest rates in Asia and lower large case group sales in Canada.

Wealth sales, jumped 43 percent to C$12.4 billion, helped by positive net flows, strong mutual fund sales in Asia, Canada and the United States, and a strong growth in group pension sales in the United States and Hong Kong.

Total contract benefits and expenses more than doubled to C$5.57 billion.

Assets managed by Manulife Asset Management were C$252 billion as at March 31, up C$14 billion from December 31.

Manulife shares closed at C$14.76 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Wednesday.

Reporting By Neha Dimri and Ashutosh Pandey in Bangalore; Editing by Supriya Kurane

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