By Gianluca Semeraro
MILAN (Reuters) – Italy’s biggest insurer Generali <GASI.MI> on Friday said it would pay its 2019 dividend in two tranches, confirming a total payout of 0.96 euros per share, citing its strong capital position.
The announcement flies in the face of calls by industry regulator EIOPA for insurers and reinsurers in the European Union to suspend dividends and share buybacks and consider postponing bonuses to ensure continuity in services during the coronavirus pandemic.
Generali said it would pay a first tranche of 0.50 euros per share in May and that it plans to pay the remaining portion by the end of the year, subject to a board assessment of capital and regulatory requirements.
The company said it had taken EIOPA’s recommendations into account and that its decision was consistent “with the fact that … all of the conditions to proceed with the dividend distribution for 2019 continue to exist”.
“Even if the final impact of the COVID-19 crisis is still uncertain, there is no reason to doubt the group’s stability,” it said, adding that its solvency ratio remains comfortably within the target operating range.
Germany’s Allianz <ALVG.DE>, the region’s biggest insurer, told Reuters last week that it was in “good shape” and wanted to maintain both its dividend and a share buyback.
Generali’s solvency ratio, a key measure of its financial strength, stood at 200% on March 6, compared with 224% at the end of 2019 – partly because of an acquisition in Portugal, but also because of falling prices for Italian government bonds.
The insurer held 63 billion euros ($68 billion) in Italian bonds at the end of 2019.
Italian bonds have been hit as the coronavirus crisis and a nationwide lockdown aimed at stemming contagion rock the economy, forcing the government to ramp up spending.
Generali also announced voluntary pay cuts at management level.
Chief Executive Philippe Donnet, the members of the group’s management committee and other executives with strategic responsibilities have decided to reduce their fixed salary by 20% for the remainder of the year, the company said.
France’s biggest insurer AXA <AXAF.PA> has postponed its annual meeting to allow time for discussions with European regulators, though draft resolutions to pay a dividend remain unchanged.
Generali’s smaller domestic rival UnipolSai <US.MI> last week said that it would pay its planned dividend on 2019 results while parent company Unipol Gruppo <UNPI.MI> suspended its own dividend payment.
($1 = 0.9205 euros)
(Reporting by Gianluca Semeraro; Editing by Valentina Za and David Goodman)