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Aviva sees steady Q1, cash for shareholders on track

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FILE PHOTO: An Aviva logo at the company's head office in London
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LONDON (Reuters) -British insurer Aviva recorded steady sales performance in its life insurance business and a 4% rise in general insurance on Thursday as it repeated its promise to give cash back to shareholders.

Aviva has sold eight businesses totalling 7.5 billion pounds ($10.58 billion) in the past year to focus on key markets of Britain, Ireland and Canada. It said on Thursday it would make a "substantial" return of capital to shareholders once the deals have completed.

But investors will likely have to wait until 2022 for their pay-outs, as Chief Financial Officer Jason Windsor said the 3.2 billion euro sale of France is expected to complete in the fourth quarter.

Aviva had no specific acquisition plans for the excess cash but "we'll screen acquisitions as they come along", Windsor told Reuters.

Life insurance premiums were steady at 8.3 billion pounds supported by record quarterly net flows in its savings and retirement business.

General insurance net written premiums rose 4% to two billion pounds, Aviva said in a statement.

Combined operating ratio, a measure of underwriting profitability in general insurance in which a level below 100% indicates a profit, strengthened to 90.6% compared with 118.7% a year earlier, helped by relatively benign weather, Windsor said.

JPMorgan analysts described the first-quarter update as "strong", reiterating their "overweight" rating on the stock.

($1 = 0.7092 pounds)

(Reporting by Carolyn Cohn, editing by Kirstin Ridley and Rachel Armstrong)