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St James's Place First-Quarter Sales Rose 41%

UK wealth manager St James's Place said on Wednesday new sales in the first three months of 2007 jumped 41% from a year earlier to 97.8 million pounds ($195.8 million), helped by continued growth in pensions.

The first-quarter rise comes after sales growth of almost 60% in 2006, when the group was a key beneficiary of pension rule changes that encouraged Britons to save for retirement.

The British group, which sells life insurance, pensions and investments to over 400,000 affluent clients, saw pension sales almost double in the first quarter.

Investment sales climbed 22% but protection sales, its smallest product category, dipped 14%.

St James's, 60% owned by bank HBOS said comparatives with 2006 would get tougher -- the key pension rule changes last year were introduced in April -- but said it was on track to meet its sales target.

"The much stronger new business comparatives during the remainder of the year will see our relative growth slow," Chairman Mike Wilson said in a statement.

"However, the strong first quarter means that we are well placed to achieve our longer term growth objective of 15-20% per annum in the current year."

St James's surprised investors earlier this year with the departure of its chief executive, but Wednesday's statement gave no details on a possible replacement.

The stock, which climbed over 60% in 2006, is now trading on some of the sector's highest multiples and is up around 7% since the start of 2007.