(MENAFN - AFP) German insurance giant Allianz said Friday it aims to boost profits this year in the face of expected political and economic risks, after reporting strong results for 2016.
The group had faced a "difficult environment" last year, chief executive Oliver Baete told a Munich press conference, with "market volatility, political volatility, Brexit, the elections in the US, the referendum in Italy."
"All of that left its mark on us," he said, pointing as well to low interest rates that have burdened banks and insurers' traditional business.
Despite the headwinds, Allianz increased net profit by 4.0 percent to 6.9 billion euros (7.4 billion) in 2016, slightly overshooting analysts' forecasts.
The firm notched up 122 billion euros in revenues last year, down 2.2 percent from 2015, but still beating its own forecast.
Operating, or underlying profit edged up 0.9 percent 10.8 billion euros.
In the fourth quarter alone, Allianz booked a 23-percent increase in net profit to 1.7 billion euros.
The life and health insurance unit put in the best performance among the group's divisions, with operating profit there growing by 9.3 percent.
By contrast, operating profit at the property and casualty insurance arm fall back 4.2 percent and underlying earnings in its asset management division were down 4.0 percent.
Nevertheless,there was good news for Pimco, the keystone of its asset management business, as investors entrusted more cash to the firm than they removed in the second half of the year -- beginning a turnaround from the net withdrawals that had plagued it since the tumultuous departure of chief Bill Gross in late 201
Allianz plans to pay shareholders an increased dividend of 7.60 euros, up from 7.30 euros paid out for 2015.
The insurer will also buy back up to three billion euros of its own shares.
"The combination of a dividend increase and a share buy-back probably both at the upper end of market expectations is a sign of strength," DZ Bank analyst Thorsten Wenzel commented.
Shares in Allianz were up 2.49 percent to trade at 162.30 euros (172.76) just after 1100 GMT on Friday, making it the best performer in the Dax index of leading German shares.
- 2017 'difficult to predict' -
The year ahead remains "difficult to predict", CEO Baete said in a statement released with the results, after a 2016 "filled with surprises, not all of them welcome, that challenged many assumptions".
For 2017, the group forecasts operating profits around the same level as 2016, at 10.8 billion euros plus or minus 500 million euros -- "barring unforeseen events, crisis or natural catastrophes," he went on.
At Friday's press conference, Baete said that Allianz was open to making acquisitions using its well-stocked war chest, but "only if they are worth it for the shareholders."
The group would look particularly at property insurance firms rather than life insurers as takeover prospects, he went on.
Baete also quashed press reports that Australian insurer QBE was on Allianz's acqusition radar, saying that they were "not true".
QBE has also denied the reports.
The group made no comment on recent media reports that Allianz could look to buy Italy's Generali.