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UPDATE 1-Manulife CFO plays down talk of John Hancock spinoff

(Adds comments from CFO)

TORONTO, Aug 10 (Reuters) - Manulife Financial Corp Chief Financial Officer Steve Roder on Thursday played down reports that the insurer is exploring an initial public offering of U.S. unit John Hancock.

"It's all market rumor and speculation as far as I'm concerned," he said in an interview.

The Wall Street Journal reported last month that Canada's biggest life insurer was under pressure from some of its shareholders to make the move after years of disappointing results at the unit.

The company has previously said it would consider selling off some businesses that are hindering its growth.

"For the last 18 months or so, we've highlighted to our investors that we are always considering how we can optimize our balance sheet and accelerate the growth in (return on equity)," Roder said on Thursday. (Reporting by Matt Scuffham; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Lisa Von Ahn)