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Prudential sales in Asia drop 24% but profits up, Jackson IPO still on table

The Asia focused life insurer said it was continuing to prepare for various ways of spinning off its US arm including a possible minority IPO

Prudential PLC -

Prudential PLC (LON:PRU) reported a sharp fall in sales in the first quarter from the effects of coronavirus in China and Hong Kong.

The life insurer said it was continuing to prepare for various ways of spinning off its US arm, Jackson, including a possible minority initial public offer. 

Earlier in the year, the FTSE 100 group bowed to activist pressure and said it was working out how best to demerge the US business.

Total Asia sales were down 24% to US$986mln in the first quarter of 2020, with Hong Kong crumbling 50%, China down 19% and sales outside of those two areas up 1%. 

Adjusted operating profit for current insurance policies, known as in-force business, were up 14% in Asia.

Sales for Jackson were up 25% to US$631mln in the first quarter of 2020.

Chief executive Mike Wells said: “Over the first quarter of 2020 the world has seen substantial disruption caused by Covid-19, alongside related market volatility.”

Reactions by the company have resulted in around 75% of the FTSE 100 group’s 19,500 colleagues working remotely as of 6 May, with no notable increase in costs, while the 'Pulse by Prudential' app saw customer downloads jump from 1.3mln in mid-March to around 4mln recenty, with an estimated that two-thirds of products in Asia now capable of being sold virtually.

Prudential’s estimated shareholder surplus increased by US$1.6bn in the period and the estimated shareholder cover ratio at 31 March was 302%, after allowing for the second interim dividend to be paid in May.

The shares were down 7% to 1,010.5p by noon on Thursday.

Richard Hunter, head of markets at broker Interactive Investor, said: “Prudential’s Asian exposure has been both a blessing and a curse over recent months, but for the long-term the proposition remains firmly intact.

Noting that even prior to the pandemic, Asia had become something of a minefield with political unrest in Hong Kong and the ongoing trade spat between the US and China adding to the slowing of Chinese growth, but the first quarter effect from coronavirus was significant.

Hunter noted Prudential is making some “innovative twists", such as its Pulse app, as it “aims to change the ratio of those customers dealing with the company in person by establishing a virtual alternative”, and said customers have not been rushing for the exit during the crisis, with a first-quarter customer retention rate of 97%.

He also noted the benefits of geographical diversification becoming evident in strong growth in Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore; the strength of the balance sheet and a dividend yield of 3.5%.

“The insurance sector has had a number of companies which have either chosen or have been guided to defer their dividends, but Prudential’s new-found focus on Asia following the demerger likely gives the company an exemption.”

  --Adds broker comment--

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Price: 1244.5 GBX

LSE:PRU
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Market Cap: £32.47 billion
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