(Adds analyst comment, share price)
HELSINKI Feb 8 Finnish financial holding group
Sampo on Wednesday proposed increasing its annual
dividend for the eighth consecutive year, and posted record
underlying profits for its property and casualty (P&C) insurance
If, the Nordic region's largest P&C insurer, has benefited
from its strong position in all Nordic and Baltic countries.
Sampo - which also owns a fifth in Nordea Bank -
proposed a dividend of 2.30 euros per share, up from 2.15 euros
a year earlier and above analysts' average forecast of 2.26
euros in a Reuters poll.
"The larger-than-expected dividend is an indication that the
management is very confident of increasing the dividend also in
the future," said OP Equities analyst Antti Saari, who has a
"hold" rating on the stock.
Shares in the company were up 1.3 percent by 1025 GMT.
The group's fourth-quarter pretax profit rose 28 percent
from a year ago to 528 million euros ($563 million) with the
help of one-off items such as investment returns and released
If posted its best-ever full-year combined ratio, a measure
of core profitability, of 86.1 percent excluding one-offs, from
86.5 percent in 2015. A lower figure indicates better
The company said it expected good operating results from
2017, but added that low interest rates posed a challenge.
"Sampo is an extremely stable case... but increasing profits
will be difficult in the coming years. Efficiency measures will
take time in Nordea, and If is already very efficient," OP's
Sampo also owns 41 percent of If's rival Topdanmark
and it is planning to scrap share buybacks and reinstate
dividend payouts at the Danish company.
"I'm sure they will acquire the whole Topdanmark at some
point, but they will be patient and won't overpay," Saari said.
($1 = 0.9379 euros)
(Reporting by Tuomas Forsell and Jussi Rosendahl; editing by