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Profit jumps at Finland's Sampo, Nordea exit looms

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By Essi Lehto

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Finnish insurer Sampo on Wednesday beat expectations with a 30% jump in quarterly core earnings, aided by a strong performance from its main subsidiary If and gains from selling a stake in Finnish Nordea bank.

The group's third-quarter combined ratio decreased 2.3 percentage points to 80.8%, beating analysts' consensus estimate of 81.5% in a company-provided poll. A ratio below 100 means an insurer earns more in premiums than it pays out in claims.

Sampo's result was a bit stronger on the insurance side than in investments, Inderes analyst Sauli Vilen said, adding investors usually value that over performance on the volatile stock market.

"Insurance companies have benefited from the pandemic as people were stuck at home and drove fewer kilometers. That is clearly visible in the insurance business results," Vilen said.

Sampo's Chief Financial Officer Knut Arne Alsaker told Reuters the company expected the fourth quarter to be the first that would not benefit from the pandemic, but that the impact on the combined ratio would be minor.

Ever since Sampo a year ago said it would focus on insurance, shareholders have waited to see when it would take the final step in selling its stake at Nordea.

Sampo's third-quarter result was boosted by a 144 million euro gain from selling Nordea shares in September. In October, the insurer sold more stock, reducing its stake in the bank to 6.1%.

Alsaker would not set a deadline for the final exit but said Sampo had a financial incentive to exit Nordea within the next 12 months to avoid paying taxes on capital gains after its holding went below 10%.

"It is now evident that Sampo will exit Nordea completely in the beginning of next year. The shares sell so well that the only question is will they sell it in one or two instalments," Vilen said.

($1 = 0.8632 euros)

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