High interest rates hit Legal & General assets, shares fall

By Carolyn Cohn and Eva Mathews

LONDON (Reuters) -British life insurer and asset manager Legal & General recorded a 10% drop in assets under management in the year to end June, it said on Tuesday, overshadowing a first-half operating profit beat and sending its shares lower.

High inflation and interest rates have hit asset values and investor demand, with fund managers such as abrdn also seeing assets fall.

Official data on Tuesday showed higher-than-expected wage growth in Britain, boosting the chances of further Bank of England interest rate hikes.

Legal & General Investment Management, one of the biggest investors in the UK stock market, recorded assets under management of 1.2 trillion pounds ($1.52 trillion) at end-June, and external net outflows in the first half of 12.3 billion pounds.

However, the insurer reported a forecast-beating operating profit in the same period, boosted by its bulk annuity business.

Higher UK interest rates have improved the funding positions of defined benefit, or final salary, pension schemes, enabling employers to offload pension risk to an insurer through a so-called bulk annuity more cheaply.

Outgoing Legal & General CEO Nigel Wilson described the results as “mixed” in a call with Reuters, but said the insurer was seeing “slightly more tailwinds than headwinds”.

The group has named Banco Santander executive Antonio Simoes to replace Wilson, who is retiring at the end of the year.

L&G’s operating profit came in at 941 million pounds, down 2% from a year earlier but well above the 834 million pounds predicted in a company-compiled consensus poll. The company said it remained on track to achieve its five-year ambitions.

Shares in the group fell as much as 4% before regaining some ground to trade 2% lower at 1240 GMT.

KBW analysts highlighted weak asset management flows, but reiterated their “market perform” rating on the stock. Jefferies analysts said some investors had expected the insurer to offer a share buyback on Tuesday.

Jefferies reiterated its “buy” rating on the stock, adding that “whilst it is not in our base case, the probability of a buyback being announced at the FY23 results is higher than ever”.

L&G said it would pay an interim dividend of 5.71 pence, up 5% and in line with expectations.

British specialist insurer Just Group reported a 154% jump in first-half profit on Tuesday, also beating market estimates, boosted by bumper sales of its retirement income products and higher new business income. Its shares eased 0.24%.

($1 = 0.7878 pounds)

(Reporting by Carolyn Cohn in London and Eva Mathews in Bengaluru; Editing by Sinead Cruise and Jan Harvey)