By Carolyn Cohn
LONDON (Reuters) - Aviva <AV.L> expects to generate an extra 3 billion pounds ($4 billion) in cash over the next two years and will make acquisitions as well as giving money back to shareholders, it said on Thursday, sending its share price to three-month highs.
Insurers and reinsurers, among them Allianz <ALVG.DE> and Swiss Re <SRENH.S>, have been returning cash to shareholders as strong competition cuts opportunities for expansion.
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Aviva has made a number of disposals in the past year, including in France, Spain, Italy and Taiwan, and says its Indian joint venture is under "strategic review".
"The franchises we have left have a pretty decent track record," Chief Executive Mark Wilson told an investor day in Warsaw.
"We are moving into a new phase and we have the capital to be able to do it."
Aviva expects to deploy 2 billion pounds of cash in 2018 by spending 900 million pounds on repaying expensive debt and using the remaining 1.1 billion pounds for "bolt-on" acquisitions and returning cash, it said in a statement ahead of the investor day.
Some analysts had anticipated Aviva would announce a share buyback of 1 billion pounds on Thursday, but Wilson said the firm had an "appetite for M&A".
Aviva has said it is only looking at small purchases following its 5.6 billion-pound ($7.5 billion) takeover of Friends Life in 2015, and is interested in expanding in "insurtech" and artificial intelligence.
Aviva's cash promise helped send its shares to three-month highs. They were up 2.17 percent at 520 pence at 1035 GMT, the second-biggest gainer on the FTSE 100 index <.FTSE>.
Morgan Stanley analyst Jon Hocking reiterated his 'overweight' rating on the stock in a note to clients. "Taken as a package, we think this is a bullish set of goals from Aviva and, if achieved, the current multiple on the shares looks too low," he said, giving the shares a 649p price target.
Aviva said it was raising its expectations for earnings growth to more than 5 percent annually from 2019 onwards, from a previous target of mid-single-digit growth.
It also said it would increase its dividend pay-out ratio to 55-60 percent of earnings per share by 2020, from 50 percent.
The new targets are "achievable", JP Morgan analysts said in a note, reiterating their "overweight" investment rating on the shares.
(Additional reporting by Simon JessopEditing by Jason Neely, Greg Mahlich)