United Friendly return bigger than expected

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BY JOHN MURRAY

United Friendly's trailblazing "orphan estate" policy will provide bigger- than-expected returns to shareholders, the insurer revealed yesterday.

In February, United announced that it had agreed with the Department of Trade and Industry a method for valuing and distributing shareholders' interest worth about £275m in its long-term life fund. The company said yesterday the final figure had come out at £290m, as it reported its results for last year.

George Mack, United's finance director, said that the sum would be kept in the fund, but the investment return on it would feed through to shareholders in the form of higher profits, which would support a progressive dividend policy.

Stephen Dias, insurance analyst at Goldman Sachs, estimated the likely benefit to shareholders at £8m-£9m a year after tax, allowing for some of the returns to be kept back to protect the capital's value in real terms. "That makes the 1994 result [£47.6m before tax] about the right base to start from, as it includes a one-off gain of £12m before tax as a result of the special reversionary bonus paid to policyholders."

The reversionary bonus, totalling £74.1m, was the benefit to policyholders arising from the restructuring of the life fund after the discussions with the DTI. These "orphan estates" arise when surpluses beyond what is needed to satisfy policyholders build up in a company's life fund as a result of a conservative distribution policy.

The £290m attributable to shareholders was struck after a £47m provision to compensate customers who may have been mis-sold personal pensions.

The total profit of £47.6m before tax was an 83 per cent improvement on 1993, and the dividend is lifted 21 per cent to 20p. The shares, which soared in February on news of the orphan estate agreement, yesterday leapt another 22p to 602p.

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