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Standard Life confident it can ride out pensions turbulence

Standard Life has assured investors it is riding out the turbulence in the pensions market, despite a 59 per cent fall in annuity sales since the budget and a £160million hit from the government's cap on workplace pension charges.

ROSY FUTURE: Chief executive David Nish says Standard Life is well positioned to profit from the new pensions landscape. Picture: Sam Sloan
ROSY FUTURE: Chief executive David Nish says Standard Life is well positioned to profit from the new pensions landscape. Picture: Sam Sloan

The Edinburgh-based group's shares, which had been at their lowest level since March's budget shocked the industry, rallied after Standard said the setbacks were more than outweighed by its strong positioning in the new pensions landscape.

Chief executive David Nish said: "We are the number one corporate pensions business and most people are now engaging with pensions through auto-enrolment, we are the leading Sipp provider, the leading drawdown provider, and we have Standard Life Investments — we have got all the bits and we are already integrating them."

On the group's warning in February, spelled out at the May annual meeting, that it was ready to transfer the domicile of 180 subsidiary entities from Scotland to England in the event of a yes vote in the referendum, Mr Nish said: "We do not believe further clarity has been provided on any of these issues. As a result we are continuing to develop our contingency plans to ensure continuity of our business and its competitive position."

Mr Nish said the group had spent "no material sums" on new accommodation, there had been "a very strong measure of support" from stakeholders, and he was "unaware of any significant amounts of money being withdrawn" in protest.

Standard was unveiling half-year results showing a 4 per cent increase in assets to £254billion, and a 12 per cent uplift in both new business revenues at £758m and operating profit at £359m. Pre-tax profit was up by £6m to £165m. The dividend is up 7.3 per cent to 5.6p.

Standard Life Investments sucked in another £4.2bn of money from external investors, down from £7.4bn a year ago, with 87 per cent of external assets above benchmark over one year and 91 per cent over five years.

SLI chief executive Keith Skeoch said the integration of Glasgow-based Ignis Asset Management was five weeks old and on track.

In the UK market, where from next April annuities will no longer be compulsory while corporate pension charges face a 0.75 per cent cap, Standard lifted operating profit 4 per cent to £165m. Mr Nish said: "We continue to benefit from market changes despite the recent headwinds in annuity sales... We are losing short-term profit but the opportunity for significant long-term business now exists."

Towers Watson reported yesterday that UK annuity sales were down 34 per cent in the second quarter compared with 2013.

Mr Nish said demand for the group's streamlined auto-enrolment solutions had helped it secure 1,000 new schemes and 180,000 new members, with net flows up 60 per cent. The 0.75 per cent cap on charges had prompted the group to take a £160m writedown on its embedded value of £8.4bn, but the group said it would have "no significant net impact on our cash generation in the next few years".

Mr Nish added: "Pricing in pensions will come down, but we will also stop paying commission on old-style contracts."

Profits from Standard Life's corporate arm were down 12 per cent to £37m. Platform assets under administration have increased 11 per cent since the year end to £21.5bn. On reports that Standard is about to invest £250m in its Indian joint venture, Mr Nish said the required legislation appeared imminent but any deal "won't happen overnight".

Analyst Barrie Cornes at Panmure Gordon said: The shares have traded sideways in 2014 reflecting investment markets but the outlook remains positive and we think that Standard Life will be a net beneficiary of the proposed changes to retirement products in the UK." Shares were up 5.8p at 370.2p.

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