TORONTO, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Manulife Financial Corp reported a 20 percent rise in fourth-quarter profit as stronger mutual fund sales and a C$350 million gain on the sale of its Taiwan insurance business offset weaker insurance sales, but results still fell short of estimates.
Manulife, Canada's biggest life insurer, said on Thursday that net income attributed to shareholders was C$1.3 billion ($1.18 billion), or 68 Canadian cents a share, compared with C$1.1 billion, or 57 Canadian cents a share, a year earlier.
Core profit, which excludes one-time items and market-related gains and losses, was C$685 million, or 35 Canadian cents a share, up from C$554 million, or 28 Canadian cents per share.
The average analyst estimate for core profit was 38 Canadian cents a share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Manulife sold it Taiwan insurance business to CTBC Life Insurance Co in December.
Insurance sales in the quarter fell 32 percent to C$617 million, while wealth sales climbed 15 percent to C$12.2 billion, Manulife said.
"Insurance sales were slightly lower than what we would have liked, but with better margins," Manulife Chief Executive Officer Donald Guloien said in a statement.
Besides its Canadian operations, Manulife owns U.S. insurer John Hancock and is growing in Asia, where it is present in about a dozen countries.
Manulife has spent the last few years reducing its exposure in financial markets after taking billions in losses during the financial crisis.
Its stock, which fell more than 75 percent between 2007 and 2012, has begun to claw its way back, surging 55 percent last year.
Late Wednesday, rival Sun Life Financial Inc reported sharply higher quarterly profit, helped by rising assets under management and a C$290 million gain from restructuring of internal reinsurance arrangements.