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Generali profit falls; 'worst over' in Russia

CNBC with Reuters
We've cleaned up the books: Generali CEO

The CEO of Italy's biggest insurer, Generali, told CNBC that the worst was over for the company in Russia, as it reported a 12.5 percent fall in net profit due to one-off charges.

"We cannot be hit any what happens to the ruble or what happens in Russia. We have de-risked our balance sheet from Russia completely," CEO Mario Greco told CNBC.

It comes as Generali said its 2014 net profit fell to 1.67 billion euros ($1.76 billion), below a Thomson Reuters SmartEstimate of 1.98 billion euros.

Adjusted for charges of around 400 million euros linked to the sale of Swiss private banking unit BSI and an impairment on its stake in Russian insurer Ingosstrakh, Generali said its net profit for the year was 2.1 billion euros.

However, the insurer said it would lift its dividend to 0.6 euros per share, up from 0.45 euros a share the previous year.

Pier Marco Tacca | Getty Images

Europe's third-largest insurer by market capitalization has strengthened its balance sheet over the last two years by cutting costs and selling assets and is now committed to boosting growth and dividends.

Greco old CNBC that the insurer had sold off all the assets it did not want to have on the books.

"This makes us confident for the future and this explains why we raised the dividend, because we see that business is creating the profitability that we expect to deliver in the (coming) years," he said Wednesday.

Many of Europe's leading insurers have had to focus on strengthening profitability as low interest rates eat away at investment returns.

No plans to sell bonds to ECB: Generali CEO

Generali's earnings come after the European Central Bank launched its 1 trillion euro ($1.05 trillion) bond-buying program Monday. The move has pushed government bond yields in the euro zone to record lows.

"We bought Italian, French, German bonds to cover the liabilities we have in these countries...we're not planning to sell our bonds to the ECB," Greco told CNBC.

The company said its closely-watched Solvency I ratio stood at 164 percent at the end of December, above its 2015 target of 160 percent.

Greco has said the insurer's new business plan, to be presented in May, will be based on growing the company's existing businesses and will not include acquisitions.

- Reuters contributed to this report.