Independent insurer seeks deals overseas

Independent Insurance reported a 20 per cent rise in first- half profits yesterday but cautioned that it did not expect any significant upturn in the UK insurance market until late 1998.

However, the company expressed confidence about its own prospects despite tough conditions and said it was on the look-out for acquisitions. The group's chief executive, Michael Bright, bought pounds 1m of shares, taking his holding to 5.5 per cent. Three other directors also bought stock. The shares jumped 35p to 945p.

Independent said it was looking for commercial underwriting deals in France and Spain. In the UK it is hoping that rationalisation will offer opportunities to buy UK subsidiaries or accounts.

"The company's market capitalisation is now over pounds 400m so our ambitions can be quite considerable," Mr Bright said. "We are prepared to issue paper for the right deal."

He said that while competition remained intense the outlook was improving: "There is perhaps less stupidity in the market than there was 12 months ago."

Pre-tax profits in the six months to 30 June were 20 per cent higher at pounds 20m. Long-term policy arrangements led to growth in gross written premiums, up by 16 per cent to pounds 270m. However the underlying position was flat, affected by a reduction in motor income as well as a fall in premiums at its French subsidiary.