AMSTERDAM (AP) -- Dutch insurer Aegon NV reported a 59 percent rise in first quarter earnings on Thursday, as the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis appeared to be easing.
The company said Thursday that it booked fewer impairment charges and said some assets were worth more than it previously thought.
Shares rose 5 percent to €3.459 in early trading, as the results were better than expected and the company presented several favorable measures of its solvency. Even after a rebound in share price in 2010, Aegon's stock has been cut in half over the past two years as it struggled to repay a Dutch state bailout and meet new regulatory requirements.
Aegon does around two-thirds of its business in the U.S., where it is the owner of the Transamerica brand. It reported strong new U.S. sales, although earnings from operations there worsened due to a weak performance by existing products: it earned less from annuities as people lived longer than expected.
Net profit was €521 million ($674 million), up from €327 million in the same period a year ago. The biggest reason behind the bottom line increase was the quarterly reappraisal of the "fair value" of Aegon's assets, which led to a €156 million gain versus a loss of €85 million the same period a year ago. However, lower taxes and a better operating performance also contributed slightly.
The company's first quarter results were "ahead of expectations," said analyst Lemer Salah of SNS Securities. "The company was able to improve its growth profile in particular in its core markets, which underscores our buy rating on the stock."
Aegon's investment portfolio, which includes both money it manages for clients and the portfolio it manages to pay potential claims, rose by 3 percent to €437 billion on a mix of gains, inflows from customers, and premiums.
The company said "underlying earnings" — a nonstandard measure which seeks to strip out investment impacts — rose 3 percent to €425 million, as cost-cutting in Britain paid off. Underlying earnings there rose to €29 million from €12 million a year earlier. The company's underlying earnings in developing markets rose 29 percent to €88 million.
Aegon noted that its costs from impaired assets have fallen to €41 million, the lowest level since the start of the 2008 financial crisis. Most impairments were still linked to mortgage-backed securities, however.
"Following a year of considerable transformation, Aegon's businesses made a strong start in the first quarter," said Chief Executive Alex Wynaendts.
Aegon paid a €0.10 dividend for the second half of 2012, but Wynaendts said any future increase would depend on the company's performance. "It continues to be our priority to maintain Aegon's strong capital position in this period of continued economic uncertainty," he said.