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Manulife's Q4 core earnings rise to $685 million, net income hits $1.3 billion

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TORONTO - Manulife Financial Corp.'s overall profit was up 20 per cent in the fourth quarter, helped by the sale of its Taiwan business, but its core earnings fell short of analysts expectations.

The Toronto-based company, Canada's largest life insurance business, says its core earnings provide a consistent measure of its performance by filtering out factors such as equity markets and interest rates.

Manulife (TSX:MFC) reported core earnings of $685 million, or 35 cents per share — up about 24 per cent from $554 million in core earnings during the fourth quarter of 2012, equal to 28 cents a share.

Still, the core earnings were three cents below analyst estimates of 38 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Under standard accounting, Manulife reported net income attributable to shareholders was up 20 per cent to $1.3 billion. On a per share basis the results were 68 cents, up from 57 cents per share or $1.08 billion in the fourth quarter of 2012.

Included in the net profit was a $350 million benefit from selling Manulife's Taiwan insurance business to CTBC Life Insurance Co., Ltd., a subsidiary of CTBC Financial Holding Co., Ltd., a transaction that was finalized in December.

Manullfe's insurance sales dropped 32 per cent to $617 million, affected by lower results from its U.S. and Canadian operations and a stronger-then-usual comparable sales year in Japan in 2012.

"Insurance sales were slightly lower than what we would have liked, but with better margins," said chief executive Donald Guloien in a release.

In Manulife's wealth-management business, which offers investment products and services, sales rose 15 per cent to $12.2 billion in the period fourth quarter.

"Wealth sales were simply outstanding, driving assets under management to the 21st consecutive quarter of growth, to $599 billion."

At early afternoon, Manulife Financial shares down 19 cents at $20.72, largely recovering from an earlier decline of as much as 71 cents from the Wednesday close.

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