November 7, 2018 / 10:33 PM / 14 days ago

UPDATE 2-Canada's Manulife, Sun Life post better-than-expected earnings

* Manulife Q3 EPS C$0.75 vs analyst estimate C$0.53

* Sun Life Q3 EPS C$1.20 vs analyst estimate C$1.17 (Adds comment from Sun Life CEO, details)

TORONTO, Nov 7 (Reuters) - Manulife Financial Corp and Sun Life Financial, two of Canada’s biggest insurers, on Wednesday posted third-quarter earnings that surpassed market expectations, helped by sales growth in Asia.

Canadian insurance companies have been expanding rapidly in the region, selling products to its growing middle class. The strategy is helping them drive growth and diversify from their domestic markets, where competition is intense.

Manulife said earnings per share, excluding one-off items, were C$0.75 in the third quarter, compared with C$0.53 a year ago. Analysts on average expected earnings of C$0.67 per share, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Sun Life reported earnings per share, excluding onetime items, of C$1.20 in the third quarter, compared with C$1.05 a year ago. Analysts had on average forecast earnings of C$1.17, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Manulife said sales grew by 13 percent in Asia during the quarter, benefiting from strong growth in Japan and Hong Kong. Sun Life said insurance sales in Asia increased by 7 percent, led by growth in India.

Sun Life Chief Executive Officer Dean Connor said he was bullish about the company’s prospects in the region.

“The year-to-date growth is good and the longer term trend is also looking good,” he said.

Manulife said it earned C$1.54 billion ($1.17 billion) during the quarter, excluding one-off items, up from C$1.09 billion a year ago. Core earnings at its Asian business rose to C$457 million from C$374 million a year ago.

Aside from growth in Asia, Manulife said it also benefited from positive net flows in its wealth and asset management businesses and cost efficiencies.

Sun Life said its net income, excluding one-off items, rose by 14 percent to C$730 million.

$1 = 1.3115 Canadian dollars Reporting by Matt Scuffham; editing by Bill Berkrot and Dan Grebler

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