March 8, 2017 / 9:04 AM / 9 months ago

Legal & General not seeking large M&A deals: CFO

LONDON (Reuters) - Insurer Legal & General is not planning any large acquisitions, its chief financial officer said on Wednesday, after the company reported an 11 percent rise in 2016 operating profit.

Insurer and asset manager Standard Life agreed this week to buy Aberdeen Asset Management in an 11 billion pound ($13.4 billion) merger, driving speculation there could be counterbids.

L&G, which also has a large asset management business, hired Goldman Sachs veteran Paul Miller last week for the new role of group strategy and M&A director.

“Don’t read too much into Paul Miller joining us,” L&G CFO Mark Gregory told reporters on a call.

“We are not into big transformational M&A, we will do small bolt-ons from time to time. On the very large transactions in the asset management space right now, L&G will not be participating.”

L&G posted 2016 adjusted operating profit of 1.63 billion pounds ($2 billion), slightly above a company-supplied analyst consensus of 1.62 billion, boosted by a strong performance in its retirement business.

Its asset management division, Legal & General Investment Management, which is one of the biggest investors in the UK stock market, saw assets under management rise 20 percent to 894.2 billion pounds.

Net release from operations, or net cash generated, rose 12 percent to 1.41 billion pounds, above a 1.38 billion forecast.

Barclays analysts reiterated their “overweight” recommendation on the stock.

“L&G can benefit from structural trends in retirement (pensions de-risking), asset management (shift from active to passive) and increased infrastructure spend,” they said in a note.

L&G said it was currently quoting on 13 billion pounds of bulk annuity deals, which involve taking on the risk of company defined benefit, or final salary, pension schemes.

L&G took over a 3 billion sterling book of UK annuities closed to new policyholders from Dutch insurer Aegon last year.

The insurer could take on more such back books, Gregory said. “Those opportunities will come along from time to time ... we do have the capacity to do those sorts of deals.”

L&G shares were trading at 255.9 pence at 0811 GMT, up 0.7 percent and compared with a steady FTSE 100 index.

L&G said it would pay a total dividend of 14.35 pence, up 7 percent from 2015 and in line with a forecast of 14.36 pence.

Reporting by Carolyn Cohn; Editing by Rachel Armstrong

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