By John Revill
ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss Re reported better-than-expected 2017 net income on Friday despite huge claims during 2017 and ruled out a capital increase to make it easier for Japan's SoftBank to buy a stake.
The world's second-biggest reinsurer said this month it was in talks about SoftBank taking a minority stake in a deal that could be worth $10 billion (7.2 billion pounds) or more.
The Zurich-based company said on Friday there was no certainty any deal would be concluded, but it would not be issuing new shares to enable SoftBank to make an investment.
Chief Financial Officer David Cole said Swiss Re's capital position remained strong, which meant it did not have to consider issuing new capital.
"The discussions are ongoing, but still very much at a preliminary stage," he told reporters. "We don't know what these discussions will result in, it's simply too early to say."
The board was very comfortable with Swiss Re's capital position, he said, which let it raise its dividend to 5 francs per share and propose a new up to 1 billion Swiss franc share buyback, its fourth in as many years.
Swiss Re posted net profit of $331 million, down from $3.56 billion a year earlier, but beating the average estimate of $119 million in a Reuters poll.
The results, buyback and rejection of a capital raising supported Swiss Re's stock which gained 2.8 percent in early trading, outpacing the Stoxx European sector index which was 0.3 percent higher.
"We believe the update should be taken well although the stock had already a strong run recently," said Baader Helvea analyst Daniel Bischof.
Swiss Re's results were hit by a run of catastrophes during 2017, when total global insured losses from catastrophes were set to hit $136 billion, the third-highest on record for the sector.
It estimated claims on Swiss Re from large natural catastrophes would be $4.7 billion in 2017.
As a result, Swiss Re's combined ratio for its main property and casualty business worsened to 111.5 percent from 93.5 percent a year earlier. The figure measures underwriting strength, with a figure above 100 meaning it paid out more to customers than it received in premiums.
But the losses were stemmed by an improved return on its investments, where it generated extra gains from selling off some of its equity holdings.
Swiss Re said its January renewals, which account for roughly 55 percent of its main property and casualty business, increased by 8 percent to $8.1 billion as the company won new business and achieved higher rates. Prices rose by 2 percent.
Cole said he expected "meaningful increases" in prices later this year when the North American business comes up for renewal.
(This story has been refiled to fix spelling error in first paragraph)
(Reporting by John Revill; Editing by Michael Shields)