Fed rate hike is our biggest concern: Prudential CEO

Prudential faced 'significant headwinds': CEO
Prudential faced 'significant headwinds': CEO

Future monetary policy by the U.S. Federal Reserve is the biggest concern for the multinational life insurance and financial services company Prudential, according to its group chief executive.

Tidjane Thiam told CNBC Tuesday that the U.S. is definitely recovering and sees its economy as "strong" with healthy productivity. However, he added that its central bank had the power to have the greatest impact on the company's fortunes in the near future.

"The 'big cloud' is interest rates, " he said. "When interest rates will normalize....at what speed and at what magnitude?"

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A low interest rate environment, ensured by several global central banks, has meant borrowing rates for loans and mortgages have been at favorable levels in recent years. With the Federal Reverse now looking to end its quantitative easing (QE) program, many now believe it could start to raise its main benchmark interest rate at some point in 2015.

Jason Alden | Bloomberg | Getty Images

More generally, a slow rise in interest rates is seen as positive for insurers but a quick spike in rates has led many to fear that insurers could see losses as fixed-income investments suddenly lose value as yields moves higher. Yields have an inverse relationship with fixed income prices. In July, rating agency Moody's warned in a report that that a rapid spike could be "concerning" for U.S. life insurers, in particular.

Market watchers are expecting Janet Yellen, the chair of the Federal Reserve, to give further updates of future policy in September.

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Profits rise

Thiam's comments came as the group reported a 17 percent rise in operating profit for its first half of the trading year and said it was upping its 2014 dividend by 15 percent.

The group highlighted strong economic growth from its Asian units, which it said had seen rising demand due to a growing prosperous middle class. It added that the euro zone remains challenging. Meanwhile, the U.K. outperformed all of its other units despite new regulatory changes in the country which are designed to give people more flexibility with their pensions.

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Prudential's interim dividend was raised to 11.19 per share with operating profit coming in at £1.52 billion ($2.55 billion) for its first half. Shares were trading higher by 2.5 percent shortly after the announcement.

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