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Earnings

Zurich Insurance plays down impact of COVID-19 claims

ZURICH (Reuters) - Zurich Insurance Group ZURN.S does not expect property claims triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic to materially affect the group, Europe's fifth-largest insurer said on Thursday, adding that it planned to maintain its dividend policy.

Logo of Zurich insurance is seen at an office building in Zurich, Switzerland August 9, 2018. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

Insurers have been hit across the board by pandemic-related claims for issues related to travel, business interruption and event cancellation as well as life insurance.

Including the impact of reduced claim frequency, property & casualty (P&C) COVID-19 claims were unchanged at around $450 million as of the end of September, Zurich said.

“I can’t give your forecasts for Q4 or the period into 2021 but our best estimate today is... we don’t expect a material impact from this on the group,” finance chief George Quinn told reporters, adding he saw no reason to deviate from its dividend policy.

Zurich targets a pay-out ratio of around 75% of net income and keeping dividends at least steady.

Life insurance claims were holding steady, he said, adding Zurich hoped to see improvements as governments regained control over the pandemic and the health care system gets better at treating patients.

Zurich did not give nine-month profit numbers.

The third quarter saw an active Atlantic storm season, and losses from natural catastrophes were expected to be around 2 percentage points higher than normal over the second half, it said.

P&C gross written premiums rose 3% in the first nine months on a like-for-like basis, with strong growth in commercial insurance and a further improvement in rates, it said.

Life new business sales recovered in the third quarter, with the annual premium equivalent (APE) up 7% like-for-like while nine-month APE sales were down 8%.

It said its capital position was strong, with its Z-ECM ratio estimated at 110% at the end of September.

“With a Z-ECM ratio 5 percentage points higher than expected and growth supported by a 16% P&C price rise in North America, Zurich’s 3Q statement reads surprisingly positively,” Jefferies analysts said in a note.

Zurich shares rose 1.3% in early trade before paring gains.

Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Michelle Adair and Jan Harvey

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