(Adds comment from Sun Life CEO)
* Manulife Q4 EPS C$0.65 vs C$0.66 forecast
* Sun Life Q4 EPS C$1.19 vs C$1.15 forecast
By Matt Scuffham
TORONTO, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Two of Canada's biggest insurers, Manulife Financial Corp and Sun Life Financial, on Wednesday reported higher fourth-quarter earnings, helped by growth in Asian markets.
Canadian insurance companies have been expanding rapidly in Asia, selling to the region's growing middle class. The strategy is helping them drive growth and diversify from their domestic markets, where competition is intense.
Canada's biggest insurer, Manulife, reported earnings per share, excluding one-off items, of C$0.65, compared with C$0.59 a year ago, ahead of the average analyst forecast of C$0.66, according to IBES data from Refinitiv. Total earnings, excluding one-off items, grew by 8 percent to C$1.3 billion.
Sun Life reported earnings per share, excluding one-off items, of C$1.19, compared with C$1.05 a year ago and ahead of the average analyst forecast of C$1.15, according to IBES data from Refinitiv. Total earnings, excluding one-off items, rose by 12 percent to C$718 million.
Sun Life said net income, before one-off items, grew by 26 percent in Asia to C$140 million ($106 million). It cited sales growth in the Philippines, India and Hong Kong.
"We saw very good sales growth right across the region," Sun Life CEO Dean Connor said in an interview. "Given that the Philippines, Hong Kong and India are three of our larger markets, to have those grow rapidly really makes an impact."
Sun Life also benefited from a 27 percent increase in earnings at its U.S. business to C$121 million, benefiting from favorable tax reforms and interest rate hikes.
Manulife said earnings from Asia increased by 23 percent to C$459 million during the quarter. It cited strong growth in Japan and Hong Kong.
$1 = 1.3252 Canadian dollars Reporting by Matt Scuffham; Editing by Leslie Adler and Lisa Shumaker