What to watch: Aviva sells Polish business, LV= swings to profit, European stock markets rise

A pedestrians walks past the Aviva logo outside the company head office in the city of London, Britain March 7, 2019. REUTERS/Simon Dawson

The sale marks the eighth transaction Aviva has announced in the past eight months as it aims to refocus its portfolio. Photo: Reuters/Simon Dawson

Here are some of the top business, market, and economic stories you should be watching today in the UK, Europe, and around the world.

Aviva sells Polish business

Aviva (AV.L) has announced the sale of its Polish arm to German rival Allianz (ALV.DE), Europe’s largest insurer, for €2.5bn (£2.1bn, $ 2.95bn).

The London-based firm said it will now focus on its strongest businesses in the UK, Ireland and Canada, where it has “leading market positions and strong growth potential”. Aviva also has joint ventures in China and India.

The sale marks the eighth transaction Aviva has announced in the past eight months as it aims to refocus its portfolio. It has generated total cash proceeds from the eight sales of £7.5bn ($ 10.3bn).

Aviva confirmed that there will be no impact on customers’ policies as a result of the announcement, and that the management and employees of Aviva Poland will transfer with the business.

It plans to use the increased capital and cash to reduce its debt levels and invest in long-term growth.

Aviva shares held steady on Friday. Chart: Yahoo Finance

Aviva shares held steady on Friday. Chart: Yahoo Finance

Amanda Blanc, chief executive office of Aviva, said: “We have made significant progress with our debt reduction plan and in due course we will make a substantial return of capital to shareholders.

“This transaction delivers excellent value for Aviva shareholders. It is also a very positive outcome for our customers, employees and distribution partners and we are confident that Aviva Poland will continue to prosper under Allianz ownership.”

The deal is subject to customary closing conditions, including regulatory and antitrust approvals, and is expected to complete within 12 months.

LV= swings to profit

LV= swung into the black last year as it increased its market share for the first time since 2016, offsetting a fall in its retirement and protection business

It made an operating profit of £40m in 2020, up from a £16m loss the previous year.

The mutual insurer revealed that new business sales in its savings and retirement arm was just over £1bn, down from £1.1bn in 2019. Protection new business sales also fell to £252m from £263m.

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Mark Hartigan, LV= chief executive, said: “Despite the unprecedented challenges presented by the pandemic, LV= has delivered a good financial performance in 2020.

“Through the year we have created significant momentum in our trading businesses and I am particularly pleased that we increased market share in both savings and retirement and protection.

“By taking quick and positive actions in response to Covid-19, as well as delivery of planned change initiatives, we continue to improve service for customers and have strengthened the propositions we offer the market.”

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Stocks in Europe opened higher on Friday despite an increase in COVID-19 cases across the continent.

In London, the FTSE 100 (^FTSE) rose 0.8% after opening, while the French CAC (^FCHI) gained 0.72% and the German DAX (^GDAXI) was 0.83% higher amid vaccine optimism.

On Thursday, European Commission (EC) president Ursula von der Leyen said that “we’re at the start of the third wave of the pandemic.”

France extended their lockdown to three additional regions – the Nievre, Rhone and Aube areas – with the government announcing that the newest wave has a higher number of younger people being admitted to hospitals.

German chancellor Angela Merkel also signalled that she would be declaring France a “high-risk COVID Area.”

Overnight, French president Macron said that new measures to contain the outbreak might be needed in the coming weeks, adding that “the next few weeks will be tough.”

In Poland, it was announced that nurseries and preschools would close, as the country reported a fresh record of 34,151 new cases.

Elsewhere, the Finnish government has submitted a proposal that would see temporary restrictions on movement in the worst-hit areas for 3 weeks, with people only able to leave their homes for essential reasons or outdoor recreation.

READ MORE: UK businesses call for more clarity on reopening plans

Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets UK, said: “It has been notable this week that for all the concerns about a slowdown in Europe and a delay to an economic reopening that any dips in European stocks have been fairly shallow ones.

“This suggests that for all of the concerns about valuations, in Europe at least the appetite for stocks is still there, despite the uncertainty around rising infection rates and the slow rollout of vaccines.”

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