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Allstate shares hit 4-year high on surprise profit

NORTHBROOK, Ill. (AP) -- Shares of Allstate Corp. on Thursday rose to their highest level since September 2008 on news that the company posted a surprise fourth-quarter profit despite hefty losses related to Superstorm Sandy.

The insurance company said late Wednesday it earned $394 million, or 81 cents per share, down 45 percent from $712 million, or $1.40 per share, in the same quarter a year earlier. Revenue rose 3.8 percent to $8.55 billion from $8.24 billion.

Operating income, which excludes investment gains and losses, slid to $289 million, or 59 cents per share, from $735 million, or $1.45 per share, in the 2011 quarter.

Analysts, on average, expected a loss of 5 cents per share on $6.6 billion in revenue, according to FactSet.

The Northbrook, Ill.-based company said its catastrophic losses jumped to $1.06 billion from just $66 million in the year-ago period, largely as a result of Sandy.

The losses were partially offset by a four-point improvement in the company's property-liability combined ratio, excluding catastrophic losses and other items, to 86.7.

The ratio is a sum of an insurer's loss ratio and expense ratio. A ratio above 100 means that for every premium dollar taken in, more than a dollar went to cover claims and expenses. A figure below 100 means the company made a profit on its insurance operations.

Net premiums written rose 3.3 percent to $6.64 billion, helped by an 8 percent increase at the company's Encompass brand.

For the full year, Allstate earned $2.31 billion, or $4.68 per share, up from $787 million, or $1.50 per share, in 2011. Revenue rose to $33.32 billion from $32.65 billion.

Allstate shares rose 65 cents to $44.96 in afternoon trading, after jumping as high as $46.10 earlier in the day and marking its highest stock price since September 2008.