AIA Group Ltd., the second-largest insurer by market value based in Asia, posted a higher-than- expected value of new business growth of 23 percent in the third quarter, aided by expansion in its largest markets.
The measure of projected future profitability of new policies rose to a record $468 million in the three months to August from $379 million a year earlier, the Hong Kong-based company said in a statement to the city’s stock exchange. It topped the median estimate of 21 percent of four analysts compiled by Bloomberg First Word.
“Strong and ahead of expectation,” Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. analysts led by Linda Sun-Mattison said in a research note.
Shares of the insurer, which has a history of topping analyst estimates, ended the day 1 percent lower at HK$41.10. They have more than doubled since the October 2010 initial public offering.
AIA’s new business value and margin expanded in a quarter when Asian currencies slid against the dollar and industry sales growth slowed in some of its largest markets. The insurer sells policies in local currencies and reports financial figures in the dollar.
Annualized new premium, the sum of first-year premiums and 10 percent of single-premiums, jumped 13 percent to $944 million, it said. New business margin, calculated by dividing new business value by annualized new premium, widened by 4 percent points to 48.7 percent as its product mix improved.
China was one of its strongest markets in the three months as the number of active agents increased, their productivity and product mix improved, AIA said in the statement. New business value also expanded in the double digits in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, among its largest markets, it added without giving numbers.
AIA’s China business reported premium growth of 15 percent in the third quarter, which could help drive more than 30 percent new business growth, Jefferies Group Inc. analysts Baron Nie and Will Hong wrote in an Oct. 7 report, citing regulatory data.
The company started a new product in the country in July to capture the long-term savings needs of wealthy individuals, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analysts Mancy Sun and Yao Lu wrote in an Oct. 8 report.
In Thailand, its premium growth accelerated to 6.3 percent in the three months, from 1.2 percent in the first half, the Jefferies analysts said. Its product mix has improved after reorganization of its agency sales force, the Goldman Sachs analysts said.
New business in South Korea, where it had been hurt by a regulatory moratorium on telesales by financial institutions after data leaks from credit card companies, resumed growth with lower margins, AIA said. Recovery could be gradual as the new regulatory requirements are more onerous, Credit Suisse Group AG analysts Arjan van Veen and Frances Feng wrote in a note dated Oct. 7.
Other markets were affected by unfavorable exchange rate movements and liquidity tightening in the banking industry, AIA added.
Currencies in the markets that AIA operates in dropped about 1.1 percent against the dollar in the three months, a more moderate decline than in the first half, the Credit Suisse analysts wrote.
Currencies in Malaysia and South Korea, two of its six major markets, declined another 3.9 percent last month. Singapore dollar dropped a further 2.1 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Analysts have questioned whether AIA’s margin can further expand to drive growth.
“Whilst AIA’s margin improvement has been impressive, we highlight this cannot continue to be the main driver of long- term growth,” the Credit Suisse analysts said, adding its margins in major markets are now in line with or above peers. “We’re keen to see resumption of premium growth.”
AIA’s shares have fallen 6.6 percent since Sept. 3 when they closed at a record. It was the second-most-expensive Asian insurer, trading at 1.9 times its embedded value, a gauge used to assess the economic worth of life insurers, according to the Oct. 7 Credit Suisse report.
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