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UPDATE 2-Old Mutual forecasts H1 loss as coronavirus crisis hammers volumes

* Old Mutual forecasts H1 loss per share vs year-ago profit

* Shares down 4% in early trade

* Company says sales still below last year’s levels (Adds shares, detail)

Aug 24 (Reuters) - Old Mutual expects to post a loss in the first half of 2020, it said on Monday, as it deals with weak business volumes and a spike in business interruption insurance claims due to the COVID-19 crisis.

The insurer forecast a basic loss of between 128.5 and 154.2 South African cents per share for the six months ended June 30, versus earnings of 127.3 cents a year earlier.

The 175-year-old company expects results from operations to plunge by between 61% and 71% to 1.31 billion-1.76 billion rand ($44.56 million-$76.80 million) in the period.

Shares in Old Mutual were 4% lower by 0737 GMT, deepening a 35% drop they have seen since the start of 2020.

New business sales volumes were hurt as most of the group’s tied advisers were unable to sell during the lockdown period due to the partial closure of the branch network and lack of access to customers’ homes, worksites and branches, it said.

While lockdown restrictions have been eased and economic activity has somewhat resumed, sales levels remain below prior year levels, it said.

Old Mutual, whose primary operations are in South Africa, serves retail and corporate customers in 14 countries.

The company named Iain Williamson as its permanent chief executive last month after a year of upheaval caused by the exit of his predecessor Peter Moyo, who was fired over an alleged conflict of interest.

Insurers across the globe have been setting aside billions of dollars as they face steep claims resulting from coronavirus lockdowns, which have shut businesses and led to cancellations or postponements of major events including the Olympics.

Another aggravating factor has been higher credit spreads, which Old Mutual said have led to notable unrealised mark-to-market losses in the unlisted equity and credit portfolios of its investment business.

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