LONDON: Royal Insurance Holdings says nine-month pre-tax profit rose eight per cent to a record GBP335 million (about HK$4.09 billion), driven by higher profit in its North American division. Royal, a leading life and general insurer, was expected to post pre-tax profit of an average of GBP339 million, up from GBP311 million, analysts said. Forecasts ranged from GBP326 million to GBP347 million for the period. 'With the UK remaining competitive and the international division being affected by hurricane losses, it is pleasing to see our North American operations have been more than able to compensate,' Royal said. It said earnings per share dropped to 41.6 pence from 42.7 pence, because of higher British taxes. Net asset value for the period to September 30 rose to 379 pence from 288 pence a year earlier, 'helped by rising stock markets around the world', Royal said. Northumbrian Water, which faces a takeover bid from a French water company, said pre-tax profit in the fiscal first-half rose 33 per cent as the UK utility cut operating costs and boosted sales. Pre-tax profit for the six months ended September 30 rose to GBP61.4 million from GBP46.1 million, as Northumbrian cut operating costs 10.7 per cent and turned a profit at its previously money-losing environmental service business. Northumbrian also boosted its interim dividend to 11 pence a share, up 17 per cent, from 9.4 pence a share, and said it planned to boost the dividend if it remained independent, by using a bigger chunk of its profits than it had in previous years. 'The cost-cutting has progressed a lot further than we expected, so they came in at the top end of expectations, but the important thing was the dividend, and that came in as expected,' Donna Lurry, utility analyst at Nikko Securities, said. Sweden's Electrolux, the world's largest household-appliance maker, said third-quarter pre-tax profit rose three per cent to 677 million kronor (about HK$781 million) from 650 million kronor a year earlier. Electrolux B shares rose to as high as 282 kronor after the announcement, before retreating to 280, up three kronor from Wednesday's close. In the first nine months, pre-tax earnings were 2.78 billion kronor, in line with expectations of 2.77 billion. Forecasts ranged from 2.49 billion to 3.1 billion kronor. Burton Group said its profit before extraordinaries more than doubled to GBP93.1 million in the year to September 2, from GBP40.9 million a year earlier. The British clothing and home furnishings retailer was expected to earn GBP87.3 million, according to average estimate of analysts surveyed by The Estimate Directory. Forecasts ranged from GBP80 million to GBP92 million. The company said it had bought a 125-year lease at a prime site on Oxford Street, London's busiest shopping district, for GBP94.5 million. Burton said the 126,000 square feet of retail space and 100,000 sq ft of office space would be 'marginally profit negative for the first three years'. Rodamco said fiscal first-half net profit rose one per cent to 224 million guilders (about HK$1.08 billion) as a rise in rental income was offset by increased interest payments. That compared with the preliminary net profit figure of 223 million guilders the real estate investment company released in September. Net profit was 221 million guilders in the period a year ago. Veba said surging sales of chemicals helped boost nine-month net profit at the German diversified utility and chemical company by 44.8 per cent to 980 million deutschemarks (about HK$5.35 billion). That was up from 677 million marks in the year-ago period. Veba forecast that earnings growth would slow in the fourth quarter, still leaving full-year earnings 'significantly' higher than in 1994. 'Despite a modest slowdown in earnings growth for the fourth quarter, we anticipate overall earnings for 1995 to be significantly higher than those of 1994, equalling the growth rate experienced during the first half,' the company said. Veba's net profit rose 41 per cent in the first half to 636 million marks. Profit before taxes for the first nine months rose 45.9 per cent, to 2.19 billion marks, from 1.5 billion. After-tax profit, which includes minority interests, rose 40.8 per cent, to 1.15 billion marks from 819 million in the corresponding year-ago period. Sales increased four per cent to 54.55 billion marks from 52.43 billion. Veba's shares fell 2.4 per cent yesterday, to 55.82 marks, the day's biggest loser, after 'sell' recommendations by various banks. British insurer Willis Corroon said it saw little hope of any immediate recovery in the insurance market, but it would strive to improve its performance. 'With little prospect that the operating environment will ease in any way, we remain committed to delivering value to our clients and improving margins and cash flow on behalf of our shareholders,' outgoing chairman Roger Elliott said when presenting the group's nine-month results. The firm posted a nine-month pre-tax profit of GBP75.3 million, up from GBP54.4 million last time. Mr Elliott said it was these savings which enabled the group to raise revenue despite difficult conditions. The firm said turnover at its UK and US retail operations rose by two per cent and that of operations outside those countries rose by 29 per cent, with Australia particularly strong.