November 15, 2017 / 7:35 AM / a year ago

UPDATE 1-Zurich Insurance expects rising prices to boost delivery on targets

(Adds detail on financial targets)

ZURICH, Nov 15 (Reuters) - Zurich Insurance on Wednesday confirmed its 2017-2019 financial targets, saying an expected improvement in insurance pricing following recent natural catastrophes would boost its ability to deliver on its goals.

“The targets announced last year anticipated a weakening market trend,” Chief Executive Mario Greco said in a statement ahead of its investor day in London.

“The recent events are a reminder of rising risk costs, and we expect that the impact of the events will lead to an improving price trend. This will further boost our ability to deliver on the targets for 2017-2019.”

Europe’s fifth-largest insurer said improved business performance, combined with cash generation and a strong balance sheet, gave the group confidence it would be able to increase its return of capital to shareholders over time.

The executive brought in from Generali last year to engineer a turnaround for the troubled group promised to make Zurich leaner and more efficient even while trimming the company’s profitability goals.

Cost-cutting goals were previously upped to $1.5 billion by 2019, while its target for return on equity (RoE) was set at more than 12 percent of business operating profit after tax.

On Wednesday, the insurer said it was on track to achieve around $700 million in expense savings through the end of 2017 and said improvements in underwriting performance and reinsurance were reducing earnings volatility and the impact of natural catastrophes and other large losses on its quarterly results.

Zurich said it was focused on delivering an attractive and growing dividend. As part of its 2017-2019 targets, the group has aimed to maintain a dividend of at least 17 Swiss francs ($17.20) per share while growing towards a more ambitious goal of paying out around 75 percent of net profit as income grows. ($1 = 0.9883 Swiss francs) (Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi, editing by John Miller and Louise Heavens)

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