U.S. markets close in 4 hours 39 minutes

Life insurer MetLife profit beats estimates on investment gains

The MetLife building is seen in New York, March 8, 2010. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

(Reuters) - MetLife Inc (MET.N), the largest U.S. life insurer, reported a better-than-expected quarterly profit due to gains from investments and derivatives.

The company reported a net investment gain of $286 million in the first quarter ended March 31, compared with a loss of $411 million a year earlier.

Gains from its derivatives program rose to $821 million from $343 million.

MetLife has long had a substantial derivatives program designed to smooth out risks stemming from changes to interest rates, currency exchange rates and equities.

The company is scaling back on capital-intensive businesses such as annuities to focus more on traditional life insurance and pension products.

MetLife's total operating revenue fell slightly to $17.03 billion.

On an operating basis, MetLife earned $1.44 per share. Analysts on average had expected $1.41 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

U.S. regulators sought more time last month to react to a complaint by MetLife over a decision to subject the insurer to tougher oversight because it harbors enough risk to endanger the financial system if a next crisis hits.

The company is the third insurer to be designated as a Systemically Important Financial Institution after American International Group Inc (AIG.N) and Prudential Financial Inc (PRU.N).

MetLife's net profit rose to $2.13 billion, or $1.87 per share, from $1.29 billion, or $1.14 per share, a year earlier.

Up to Wednesday's close, MetLife's shares had lost nearly 6 percent this year.

(Reporting by Neha Dimri in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)