* Net income 858.3 mln eur its highest ever
* 2012 div 2.60 eur/shr plus 0.40 eur/shr bonus
* Shares outperform market
* Predicts 2013 net income to drop to around 800 mln eur (Adds analyst comment, details, updates shares)
HANOVER, Germany, March 7 (Reuters) - Hannover Re , the world's third-largest reinsurer, beat analyst expectations for its 2012 net income and dividend on Thursday, helped by moderate damage claims and surging investment income.
Net income in 2012 rose 42 percent to 858.3 million euros, the highest level in the company's 46-year history, Hannover Re said. That topped an average of 836 million euros from a Reuters poll of 14 analysts.
Hannover Re said it would pay a dividend of 2.60 euros per share for 2012 plus a bonus of 0.40 euros per share, pipping the 2.95 euro dividend forecast by analysts.
In 2011, it had paid a dividend of 2.10 euros.
The increase in the payout was "significant" but the decision to pay a separate bonus dividend was disappointing, DZ Bank analyst Thorsten Wenzel said in a note to clients.
"It suggests that 3.00 euros (per share) might not be sustainable," Wenzel said.
Hanover Re followed the lead of rivals Munich Re and Swiss Re, which also raised their dividends, following a year of below-average natural catastrophe losses and strong investment returns.
Hannover Re said major losses cost it 478 million euros last year, more than half of which was accounted for by superstorm Sandy in the United States, but this was less than the 560 million euros it had pencilled into its budget for big damage claims.
Its shares were up 2 percent at 62.46 euros at 0902 GMT, outperforming a 0.6 percent rise in the German mid-cap index MDAX.
Profit from its non-life reinsurance unit, one of the company's two business segments, drove profits. Its earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) rose to 1.1 billion euros in 2012, better than the 970 million euros estimated by analysts.
That made up for EBIT in the life and health reinsurance division, which rose to 291 million euros, short of market estimates of 305 million.
For 2013, the reinsurer repeated its prediction for net income of around 800 million euros, or some 7 percent below the 2012 record. ($1 = 0.7692 euros) (Reporting by Peter Dinkloh and Jonathan Gould; editing by Christoph Steitz and Jason Neely)