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France's Axa rebounds from pandemic as XL unit swings to profit

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The logo of French Insurer Axa is seen outside a building in Les Sorinieres near Nantes
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PARIS (Reuters) -Axa posted a 180% surge in first-half net income on Monday as the French insurer rebounded from a spike in pandemic-related claims that led to a 1.5 billion euro ($1.8 billion) charge last year.

Europe's second-largest insurer after Allianz said it made nearly 4 billion euros of net profit in the first half, more than double the 1.43 billion euros a year earlier.

It said its company-focused Axa XL unit, hit last year by business interruption and event cancellation claims, recorded 619 million euros in underlying income from an 843 million euros loss a year ago.

Axa Chief Executive Thomas Buberl told reporters a turnaround at the unit was showing its first results.

"Taking advantage of the continued favourable pricing momentum, Axa XL is well positioned to deliver its euro 1.2 billion earnings target in 2021", Buberl also said in a statement.

Axa's underlying profit rose 93% in the first half to 3.64 billion euros. Excluding last year's COVID-19 related claims, underlying earnings rose by 12%, Axa added.

Shares in Axa were up 3.29% at 0845 GMT, topping France's CAC 40 index.

"Axa's results are a clear beat to consensus expectations, with Axa XL's underlying earnings up +40% (ex-COVID) being a particularly pleasing source of strength", analysts at Jefferies said in a note.

However, Axa warned that July's devastating floods in Germany and Belgium will cost it around 400 million euros before tax and net of reinsurance in a preliminary estimate.

The company in June reached a 300 million euro settlement with restaurant owners in France over pandemic-related insurance claims.

Chief Financial Officer Alban de Mailly Nesle said nearly half of the restaurant owners involved had expressed interest in the settlement.

"The campaign is going very well on the ground", de Mailly told reporters.

In a separate statement, Axa said its board of directors had proposed renewing Buberl's mandate as CEO and board member.

The proposal will be put to shareholders in April 2022 at the annual general meeting.

($1 = 0.8427 euros)

(Reporting by Matthieu ProtardEditing by Kirsten Donovan and Mark Potter)

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