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Selloff 'Perception Catching Up With Reality': CEO

Friday, 5 Aug 2011 | 5:31 AM ET

Thursday's market sell-off, which saw a dramatic 500 point fall in the Dow, is just a case of market perception catching up with reality, the chief executive of one of Europe's biggest insurers told CNBC Friday.

Businessman with crystal ball
Fredrik Skold | The Image Bank | Getty Images
Businessman with crystal ball

Tidjane Thiam, chief executive of Prudential , said: "Our fundamental view is that the fiscal deficits created by the crisis will take longer to re-absorb than the market had anticpated.

"What's going on is part of perceptions coming more into line with reality."

Julian Roberts, chief executive of asset manager Old Mutual , told CNBC Friday: "There does seem to be a lack of confidence driving things down.

"Corporates are delivering good profits, but we have also got this big problem over debt, particularly in Europe, the US and the UK."

Both CEOs insisted that their companies are strongly capitalized and well-placed to weather future market storms, as traders braced themselves for another sell-off in Europe and the US on Friday following overnight losses across Asia, while the price of oil headed for its biggest weekly drop since early May.

Old Mutual CEO: Lack of Confidence Causing Panic
"You've got two scenes: you've got corporates who are delivering good profits, but you've got this big problem over debt particularly in Europe, US and the UK," Julian Roberts, CEO of Old Mutual. He added: "As a corporate we're not much exposed to Europe, so it's not too much of a problem."

Their companies are expecting much of their future growth to come from emerging markets rather than Europe and the US.

Prudential only has around 53 million pounds ($86 million) worth of exposure to sovereign debt in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy combined, and about 300 million pounds exposed to banks, Thiam said.

"There was a lot of relief after '09 and we used that to de-risk our balance sheet and are now in a better position," he added.

Since taking over at the company three years ago, Thiam has focused on growth in Southeast Asia, and faced criticism from investors after a failed $35.5 billion bid for AIA's Asian business.

Old Mutual, which operates a range of financial services in Southern Africa and holds a majority stake in South African bank Nedbank, is particularly focused on Africa.

"As in all emerging markets, there's a huge amount of growth (in Africa)", Roberts said. "A lot of people have come into the world of having money, and are buying more and more goods and consuming more and more things."

African growth is being boosted by its mineral wealth and the importance of many of these resources to China, he added.

Old Mutual announced a 15 percent increase in its first-half profit to 845 million pounds Friday, helped by cost cuts and strong growth at Nedbank, which it tried to sell to HSBC late last year.

Prudential reported a better-than-expected 25 percent rise in half-year profit to 1.06 billion pounds ($1.72 billion) Friday.

Profits were boosted by strong growth in South-East Asian markets.

The company continued to grow its asset management business, which contributed £259 million, up 34 percent, to profits in the first half of 2011.

It hiked its half-year dividend 20 percent to 7.95 pence per share.

Positive growth continued in South-East Asia, particularly in the target countries of Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines, Thailand, and more mature markets Hong Kong and Singapore. India was described as "challenging".

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