Hiscox reveals 12.5% profits rise after strong showing from retail operation

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Insurer Hiscox said profits rose 12.5% in the first half of the year, helped by a solid performance in its retail business.

The firm said pre-tax profits, stripping out the impact of foreign exchange, rose to £133.5 million in the six months to June 30, from £118.7 million a year earlier.

However, it was a much gloomier picture when taking foreign exchange movements into account, with profits halving to £103 million over the period.

The company, which announced in May that it will be setting up a new EU subsidiary in Luxembourg to help it weather the Brexit storm, said the London business remains “challenging”.

“Conditions in the London market continue to test our mettle,” said chairman Robert Childs.

“We have trimmed back in some of the most affected areas, making difficult but necessary decisions to reduce our involvement or withdraw completely from some lines of business.”

Hiscox said gross written premiums in its London market business decreased by 8.2% to £314.6 million, which was in line with expectations.

The underwriter, which earns most of its revenues overseas, said the currency had “moved against us”, with the fall in the value of the pound since the Brexit vote causing a loss of £30.9 million.

But the group cheered the strong performance of its retail operations, which it said helped offset “ongoing volatility in bigger ticket items”.

“It is pleasing to see that Hiscox Retail has made the biggest contribution to the bottom line in the first half for the second consecutive year. We now have more than 750,000 retail customers,” Mr Childs said.

The US business was the standout performer, generating 31% premium growth in local currency.

The group also increased its dividend by 12% to 9.5p per share.

Mr Childs said plans for its new Luxembourg hub are progressing well, with the group working on licence approval and also pushing ahead with local recruitment and sourcing office space.

“Our plan means we will be well-placed to continue to serve our sizeable European customer base after 1 April 2019,” he confirmed.

It is understood that the new operation will staff 10 people initially, with no jobs transferred from London to the duchy. Hiscox has 1,200 staff across the UK.

Chief executive Bronek Masojada also sounded a positive note, saying that the group was finding “opportunities” despite “tough market conditions”.

He added: “We are managing the cycle and driving retail growth, as our long-held strategy of balancing the portfolio between volatile big-ticket business and steady retail business continues to deliver.”

Shares fell 1.7% to 1,330p in morning trading.