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Prudential boss defends Asia opportunities

PRUDENTIAL chief executive Tidjane Thiam issued a robust defence of the opportunities available to the group in Asia after it produced a 17% rise in operating profit for 2013 to £2.95 billion, at the top end of City expectations.

SPEECH: Prudential's chief executive, Tidjane Thiam, said he believed the global outlook was improving. Picture: AP.
SPEECH: Prudential's chief executive, Tidjane Thiam, said he believed the global outlook was improving. Picture: AP.

There has been concern about the impact on emerging markets of tightening of monetary policy in the United States as well as potential impact that the bursting of a credit bubble in China might have elsewhere in Asia.

Mr Thiam said: "Looking ahead, we believe that the global economic outlook is improving. However, investment markets are impacted by short-term volatility as the market adjusts to policy normalisation in the US.

"The macro-economic adjustments that we are seeing in emerging markets, partly driven by the return of robust US growth, are ultimately a net positive for these countries, the global economy and Prudential. We remain confident that our Asian business is well-positioned and offers a compelling opportunity to deliver long-term value both for our customers and for our shareholders.

"A rapidly growing, increasingly wealthy and well-educated middle class with significant savings and protection needs underpins demand for our products."

Operating profits from Prudential's life assurance business in Asia topped £1bn for the first time, up 17%, thanks to double digit growth in its biggest markets in Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia and fast growth in smaller units in the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. Operating profit from its US life arm rose 29% to £1.2bn.

But at its UK arm, which is headed by former Standard Life finance director Jackie Hunt, earnings were broadly flat at £706 million as it was hit by lower business volumes following industry reforms that banned commission payments to financial advisers.

Mr Thiam said: "Our UK life business serves the needs of an ageing population. The UK remitted £355 million of cash in 2013, above its objective of £350m, an excellent performance from a mature business in an industry facing considerable regulatory change."

Prudential's shares finished the day at a record high closing price of 1398p up 37p or 2.7%.

The stock took a hit earlier this year when emerging markets were rattled by the United States' decision to reduce its monetary stimulus.

Mr Thiam said the group, which employes 1200 at Craigforth near Stirling, had achieved a series of growth targets set in 2010 and would continue to focus on harnessing trends such as rising affluence in Asia and America's baby boomers hitting retirement.

"The Asian pie is growing faster than we can eat it," he said.

Mr Thiam also said the group was eyeing further international expansion, with Saudi Arabia and Africa in its sights.

He said a business that was previously reliant on the UK for earnings and cash generation was now well diversified.

Richard Hunter, head of equities at Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers, said: "Prudential has delivered a sparkling set of numbers which belie Asian economic concerns and are in sharp contrast to an otherwise lacklustre market."

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