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By Gianluca Semeraro
MILAN (Reuters) -Generali beat first-quarter profit forecasts driven by its non-life and asset management businesses, as Italy's top insurer scouts for opportunities for further growth.
Generali has spent 1.8 billion euros ($2.2 billion) on targeted acquisition since 2019 and still has around 2.3 billion for merger and acquisitions.
"We continue to assess M&A opportunities with a disciplined approach as a way to diversify our sources of cash-flow," head of finance Cristiano Borean told a news briefing on Tuesday.
Borean said other options, including a share buyback, would be considered if M&A opportunities did not arise.
Despite robust earnings, CEO Philip Donnet has come under fire over the past year by some leading Italian investors who want the company to bulk up to better compete with larger European rivals.
Boardroom discussions over governance are expected to intensify as Generali prepares to appoint a new board in 2022.
Generali said in November it aimed to become a top player in asset management, where operating profits rose by 46% in the three months through March to 136 million euros.
Generali said it would continue to identify investment opportunities through the expansion of its "multi-boutique platform".
It reported a quarterly operating profit of 1.6 billion euros, up 11% from a year ago and above a company-provided analyst consensus of 1.5 billion.
Net profit also came in above analysts' consensus at 802 million euros.
It also confirmed all targets of its strategic plan including an EPS compound growth rate of 6-8% between 2018-2021.
The life segment proved resilient despite the current low interest rates environment thanks to the ongoing rebalancing towards unit-linked and protection lines, the company said.
"The growth in unit-linked (products) continues to surprise us positively and the high growth in asset management revenues is driving operating leverage," analysts at Jefferies wrote in a note.
Generali shares were up 1% as of 1100 GMT, outperforming the European insurance sector.
Generali's solvency ratio stood above 230% as of Friday despite the recent widening of the spread between Italian and German 10-year government bonds, Borean said.
($1 = 0.8188 euros)
(Reporting by Gianluca Semeraro; editing by Jane Merriman and Jason Neely)