Updates from Aviva, Standard Life & Balfour Beatty

The FTSE 100 dipped four points yesterday, to 6,427. Vodafone Group saw the biggest climb, up +6.76% while CRH took the biggest overall loss, down -4.23%.

Across the pond, the Dow Jones continues its ascent, up 42 points to 14,296. Overnight, Asian stocks drifted slightly though the Japanese Nikkei remained solid, up +0.30%.
The big corporate news this morning is insurer Aviva, reeling from heavy losses - £3.2bn was written down - on the sale of its US business, Aviva USA. The insurer has slashed its dividend to 19p from 26p. This move - its first cut since 2009 - is to reduce its debt load and stoke up reserves, claims Aviva.

It's likely the stock will see a sell-off this morning. Operating profits have also slipped -4% to £1.76bn. Aviva still claims profit levels are healthy across its major businesses, especially in the UK, France and Canada.

"We have," said chief exec Mark Wilson, "a number of market leading businesses capable of delivering progressive cashflows and other businesses that offer genuine growth potential. My intention is that Aviva will be a simpler business with a robust balance sheet that delivers sustainable cashflows and growth."

Next, Edinburgh-based insurer Standard Life. Operating profits jump +65% to £900m driven by "a significant improvement" in UK performance. There's a windfall special dividend for shareholders, worth £302m. The final dividend up 6.5% to 9.80p, making a total of 14.70p for the year (2011: 13.80p).

Part of the improvement story - the stock is sharply up on last year - is lower unit and absolute costs with acquisition costs of 156bps (2011: 169bps) and maintenance costs of 45bps (2011: 46bps). Group assets under administration have risen in value to £218.1bn (2011: £198.4bn)

"Canada is performing well under its new management team," says chief exec David Nish. "In Asia we are building exciting businesses in our chosen markets which are full of potential, opening branches in Singapore and Dubai. Our Indian businesses go from strength to strength."

Lastly, final full year numbers from builder Balfour Beatty, recently knocked off the shortlist to build Google's new London base. Reported pre-tax profits plunge to £75m from £331m in 2011 while earnings per share slips to 6.5p compared with 26.7p in 2011, a -76% dip. The dividend climbs +2% to 14.1p from 13.8p.

The order book is up 1% at £15.3bn and the company continues to grow in target geographies and sectors it claims, while facing clear challenges in UK and US construction markets.

"Support Services," said the company, "achieved good revenue growth in power and buildings. Construction Services revenue was down by 1% as a result of contraction in the UK partly offset by good growth in Hong Kong."

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