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Zurich Financial Warns Negative Economy Could Affect its Long-Term Profitability Target

Source: WSJ

Posted on 02 Dec 2011

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Zurich Financial Services AG Thursday warned that it could miss its long-term profitability target if the currently negative economic outlook persists, but said the insurer still aims to pay an attractive dividend.

"The strategic ROE [return on equity] target is unchanged, and we remain committed to delivering long-term business operating-profit-after-tax return on equity of 16%," Chief Executive Martin Senn said in a statement.

He cautioned, however, that a return of around 2 percentage points below the target is more realistic if the negative economic outlook persists.
The gloomy economic prospects have led to record low interest rate in all developed markets and dampened demand.

"The insurance industry faces three main challenges from the current economic and political environment: low government bond yields; the euro debt crisis; and slowing growth with elevated inflation in the emerging markets," Kurt Karl, chief economist at Swiss Re, a reinsurance company, said Thursday at a conference.

One of the measures that Zurich is taking to deal with this challenging environment is to grow in emerging markets instead.

Despite its cautious outlook, Zurich Financial's strong solvency and cash generation support its policy to pay a sustainable and attractive dividend, Senn added.

"The dividend statement is as clear as it can be subject to usual uncertainties and the fact that it is the board rather than management that approves the payout," said Tim Dawson, analyst in Geneva with independent Swiss broker Helvea. "We believe that investors will come away with the opinion that the dividend is highly likely to be maintained."