Refuge shares climb on 7 per cent dividend rise

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REFUGE Group's shares buoyed 20p to 670p yesterday as the life insurance company lifted its interim dividend by nearly 7 per cent to 9.6p.

News of the higher payout, coupled with increases in premium revenues, helped to offset a warning by Refuge that several parts of its business were encountering difficult conditions.

Refuge is one of the country's smallest life insurance groups, dwarfed by Prudential and Legal & General.

The latest warnings follow last year's static performance, which resulted in Refuge showing a marginal improvement in profits before tax from pounds 14.21m to pounds 14.49m.

In general insurance Refuge said yesterday that theft claims in particular continued to be a problem and a slight improvement on last year's overall result was likely to be the best which could be achieved.

Douglas Allen Spiro, its estate agency business, has also been squeezed despite a late rush before the ending of the stamp duty concession last month.

After a 'very poor spring, especially in the weeks following the general election', Refuge said this business was unlikely to show any improvement over 1991.

Elsewhere, the farming investments of the life funds of Refuge Assurance are to be sold. Although profitable, the return on the capital invested 'has been inadequate, and the outlook is discouraging'.

Against those trading statements, Refuge reported a rise in assurance revenue premiums from pounds 32.8m to pounds 38.3m in the half-year to 30 June. Within the new business, single premiums improved from pounds 2.8m to pounds 6.2m.

Refuge Investments showed an increase in revenue premiums from slightly over pounds 19m to pounds 24.6m. Of the new business, single premiums on pension annuities climbed by pounds 3m to pounds 18.8m.

Unit trust sales were flat, coming in at pounds 2.7m against pounds 2.5m in the comparable period last year.

Industrial life business saw revenue premiums rise from pounds 42.4m to pounds 44.6m. New business attracted pounds 10m of regular assurance premiums, up from pounds 9m, while general premiums were static at pounds 6.6m.