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Canada's Manulife profit jumps 45 percent jump on Asia sales

President and Chief Executive Officer of Manulife Financial Corporation Donald Guloien speaks to shareholders at the company's Annual General Meeting in Toronto May 1, 2014. Manulife Financial Corp said on Thursday its first-quarter profit surged more than 50 percent as a stronger investment performance and higher wealth management fees more than offset weaker insurance sales.REUTERS/Fred Thornhill (CANADA - Tags: BUSINESS)

(Reuters) - Manulife Financial Corp , Canada's biggest life insurer, reported a 45 percent jump in first-quarter earnings, boosted by strong insurance sales in Asia and gains from interest rate movements. Net income attributable to shareholders rose to C$1.05 billion ($817 million), or 51 Canadian cents per share, in the quarter ended March 31, from C$723 million, or 36 Canadian cents per share, a year ago. Core earnings rose nearly 14 percent to C$905 million, or 44 Canadian cents per share, beating analysts average estimate by 1 Canadian cent, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. The activation of a bancassurance partnership with DBS in Singapore and Hong Kong helped Manulife's Asian unit push total insurance sales up by 14 percent to C$954 million, more than making up for another quarter of lackluster investment gains. Commodities-sector investments have weighed on Manulife's bottom line for several quarters as mining and oil companies languish amid sliding commodity prices. Manulife had said in February it would be difficult to achieve its core earnings target of C$4 billion in 2016, citing "macroeconomic headwinds and energy price volatility. Assets under management and administration were C$904 billion at the end of March, down from C$935 billion at the end of December, primarily due to the strengthening of the Canadian dollar. (This story corrects fourth paragraph to show amount is in C$, not US$) (Reporting by Richa Naidu in Bengaluru; Editing by Savio D'Souza)

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