British life insurer Legal & General unveiled a bigger-than-expected dividend after strong annuity sales helped drive annual profit that narrowly beat analysts' forecasts.
L&G, Britain's fourth-biggest insurer by market value, made a 2012 operating profit of 1.09 billion pounds, it said on Wednesday.
That was up 3.2 percent on the previous year and above the average analyst forecast of 1.08 billion pounds in a company poll.
The improvement was driven in part by strong sales of individual annuities, investment products that offer retirees a regular income until death, which rose 26 percent to 132 million pounds.
L&G hopes to offset weak economic growth in Britain by cashing in on growing demand for annuities and other pension products as the "baby boomer" generation approaches retirement age.
The 177-year old insurer also aims to benefit from higher levels of saving and investment by consumers as Britain's cash-strapped government cuts its welfare budget to shore up the public finances.
"An uncertain, sluggish economy has had minimal impact," Chief Executive Nigel Wilson said in a statement. "The more important drivers for us are ageing populations, falling state spending on welfare and new long-term investment opportunities as banks retrench."
L&G is paying a total dividend of 7.65 pence per share, up 20 percent on the previous year, and ahead of the 7.49p pencilled in by analysts.
Shares in L&G have risen 35 percent in the past year, outpacing a 9 percent rise in the FTSE 100 <.FTSE>, reflecting big increases in the insurer's dividend last year on the back of stronger cash generation.
The stock closed at 162.7p on Tuesday, valuing the company at about 9.5 billion pounds.
(Reporting by Myles Neligan; Editing by David Holmes)