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Assurance giant boosts its reputation with €96m profits

IRISH Life has perhaps been given an unfair reputation as a ward of the State since the Government paid €1.3bn for the assurance giant last year.

Yesterday's results gave the lie to that reputation. Most of the numbers that matter were trending up during the first six months of the year.

Pre-tax profits were up more than 600pc to €96m, while persistency -- which measures how much business is being retained -- was also moving in the right direction.

The company accounts for over a million customers and nearly a third of the life and pensions market. It has tie-ups with AIB, EBS, and Permanent TSB that make it, here at least, truly a giant player.

There are some problems on the horizon, however.

The upcoming Budget is expected to hit business as customers sacrifice policies in order to retain other items. It's a fair assumption that there will be people choosing to retain Sky Sports rather than their protection policies.

Company chief executive Kevin Murphy admitted the economic environment remained "very challenging", with retail sales hit by lower levels of disposable income.

"This is a very tough market and will remain so for a number of years," he added.

And then there is the issue of state ownership. The company itself may be sound, but almost a year after the state took it over, it remains in public hands.

Most of its potential suitors come from North America, where there is a much more alarmist view on Europe than here, and Irish Life says it will take several months of stability in the eurozone to convince any buyer to make a move.

On the face of it at least, the business seems a classic case of a decent house in a bad location getting dragged down by the shoddy buildings around it.

Indo Business