Britain's second-largest insurance group, Prudential, has reported that 70 per cent of profit from new business now comes from Asia. Prudential, which operates in 11 Asian countries including Hong Kong and China, made GBP153 million (about HK$1.72 billion) profit from new business in the region last year, compared with GBP90 million the previous year. Operating profit on a statutory basis in the Asian region rose 47 per cent to GBP22 million, compared with an 8 per cent rise in overall group operating profits to GBP840 million - above most analysts' forecasts. The London-listed company has been cutting costs at home with 2,000 direct sales jobs axed last week amid tightening competition and margins. But it has been expanding rapidly overseas, particularly in Asia. Since acquiring Prudential Taiwan SITE, a mutual fund operation, in October it has trebled the number of agents. Prudential also acquired Orico Life in Japan, providing it with a foothold in one of the world's largest life insurance markets, and has re-entered India's life market after nearly 50 years with the launch of ICICI Prudential Life. Prudential's largest Asian operation in Hong Kong has also considerably strengthened its agency force to become fourth in the market in terms of new business, its highest ever ranking. It is also the first European insurer to begin life-insurance operations in China, with the opening of its first sales office in Guangzhou last October. New business sales in Vietnam, where the company launched a greenfield operation in November 1999, and a new range of products tailored for the Islamic population of Malaysia have also boosted sales. Total insurance sales in Asia grew by 75 per cent during the year to GBP504 million. 'We now have strong and expanding businesses with growing customer recognition of our brand name and values across the region,' chief executive Jonathan Bloomer said. 'With over 50 per cent of our new business revenue and over 60 per cent of our new business profits in 2000 coming from overseas, we have established our position as a leading international retail financial services group.' Analysts said Prudential was increasingly dependent on Asia, which was outshining markets closer to home. The group reported statutory basis operating profit in its British insurance operations fell 3 per cent to GBP501 million last year.