SHARES in the UK's biggest insurer Prudential have hit an all-time high after the group, which employs 1,300 at Stirling, posted strong growth in new business profit.

Chief executive Tidjane Thiam also cheered investors by reporting: "The US recovery is real and strong, Asia is resilient, we do not see a hard landing in China."

The Pru reported a 17 per cent overall uplift in contribution from new business in 2014 to date, including a 28 per cent rise in the UK to £209 million, despite revealing that retail new business profits took a 22 per cent hit as annuity sales plummeted following the government's pension reform announcements. It focused instead on UK sales growth of 20 per cent to £648m during the first nine months of the year.

The group said: "The significant reforms of the pensions industry announced by the UK government, including removal of the requirement to purchase a pension annuity from April 2015, have resulted in an increasing proportion of customers deferring the decision to convert their pension savings into retirement income."

On the former Scottish Amicable business the group said: "Our UK life business aims to build on its strong existing expertise in investment products, particularly in with-profits, and in the retirement market to deliver a strong performance in a more supportive context where new opportunities have appeared, following the recent reforms."

It said a 37 per cent rise in the sale of bonds, individual pensions and drawdown had "balanced" a 47 per cent drop in individual annuity sales, with overall retail sales (on an annual premium equivalent basis) down only 3 per cent at £507m.

However it admitted that retail new business profit was 22 per cent lower, largely due to the reduced annuity sales.

The biggest driver of the Pru's growth is Asia, where it narrowly failed to pull off a £25 billion takeover in 2010, but where it reported a £775m new business profit, up 15 per cent, alongside a 16 per cent rise in the US to £530m.

However the strength of sterling severely impacted the cash result, with growth in Asia cut to one per cent and in the US to eight per cent, bringing down the overall uplift in new business profits from 17 per cent to six per cent.

Asset manager M&G reported retail net inflows of £5.3bn including £1.5bn in the third quarter, as continental Europe flows offset a £1.1bn outflow in the UK.

Prudential shares rose by almost one per cent to 1491p, valuing the group at £38bn, against a £16bn valuation for Aviva and £10bn for Standard Life.