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UPDATE 1-Canadian insurers Manulife, Sun Life beat earnings forecasts

(Recasts, adds rival Sun Life's results, background on strategy)

TORONTO, Aug 9 (Reuters) - Two of Canada's biggest insurance companies on Wednesday reported second-quarter earnings which were ahead of market expectations, benefiting from strong growth in Asia.

Canadian insurance companies are expanding rapidly in Asia, selling products to the region's rapidly growing middle class. The strategy is helping the firms drive growth and diversify from their domestic markets where competition is intense.

Canada's biggest life insurer Manulife Financial Corp reported core earnings of C$1.17 billion ($922 million), or 57 Canadian cents per share for the second quarter, compared with C$833 million, or 40 cents a share the year before.

Analysts on average had expected earnings of 55 Canadian cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S data.

Sun Life, Canada's third-biggest life insurer, reported net income of C$574 million ($452 million), or 93 Canadian cents per share, in the second quarter, compared with C$480 million, or 78 cents per share in the same period the year before.

Analysts on average had forecast earnings of 89 Canadian cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S data.

($1 = 1.2696 Canadian dollars) (Reporting by Matt Scuffham; Editing by Leslie Adler and Phil Berlowitz)