By Selena Li and Carolyn Cohn
HONG KONG/LONDON (Reuters) -Prudential PLC notched up a 16% rise in 2021 operating profit after it strengthened its focus on Asia, though it warned of implications for global markets and the economy from Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Uncertainties triggered by the crisis in Ukraine have prompted insurers to review their risk exposure. Prudential's investment exposure through its Eastspring asset management unit is minimal, chief financial officer Mark FitzPatrick told a media call.
However group chief executive Mike Wells warned, "The current conflict in Ukraine could have wider implications for global economic and market conditions as well as geopolitical relations."
Prudential now has no operations in Europe following the spin-off of British and European business M&G in 2019.
Its adjusted operating profit came in at $3.23 billion, up from $2.75 billion in 2020, beating the $3.19 billion consensus of analysts' forecasts provided by the company.
Prudential's shares surged 5%, outperforming the FTSE 100.
Prudential entered 2022 with an improved balance sheet, with a $2.4 billion equity raise in Hong Kong in the fourth quarter, used to repay debts.
Mainland China became Prudential's largest market for sales for the first time last year, Wells told reporters.
The company is “exploring” a regional partnership in China’s Greater Bay Area in the wealth management space, Prudential Asia CEO Nic Nicandrou told Reuters separately.
New business in Hong Kong, Prudential's Asia headquarters, however, continued to face pressure from the extended mainland China border closure in 2021 and from COVID-19.
Wells retires at the end of this month and Prudential's incoming chief executive will be based in Asia but may start outside Hong Kong, as the financial hub grapples with a surging COVID-19 pandemic.
The results are the life insurer's first after two strategic demergers that left Prudential focusing on Asian and African markets.
Following the M&G spin-off, it offloaded its U.S. business Jackson last September.
(Reporting by Selena Li in Hong Kong and Carolyn Cohn in London; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Elaine Hardcastle)