May 1, 2019 / 10:35 PM / a year ago

UPDATE 1-MetLife profit beats on robust underwriting, volumes

(Adds analyst estimates, MetLife shares, CEO quote, Prudential Q1 results, background)

May 1 (Reuters) - U.S. insurer MetLife Inc beat analysts' estimates for quarterly profit on Wednesday, buoyed by strong underwriting, volume growth, as well as higher investment income.

Premiums and fees rose 2 percent to $11.26 billion in the first quarter from a year earlier, while net investment income jumped 31 percent to $4.91 billion.

Life insurers make money by investing premiums in stocks and bonds, hoping to earn more than what they pay out in claims.

On an adjusted basis, net investment income rose 1 percent, despite relatively inactive markets, compared with a year ago, when the U.S. corporate tax cuts boosted stock markets.

"Our business performance more than offset some market headwinds," said Chief Executive Officer Michel Khalaf. Khalaf succeeds long-time chief Steven Kandarian, who announced his retirement in January.

The company's shares rose 1.3 percent in trading after the bell.

MetLife grew its business across most of its regions, including the United States, Asia and EMEA. The company said it had double-digit volume growth in group, property and casualty and Latin America businesses, while it saw favorable underwriting in its group life and disability business.

The insurer is strengthening its Asia and Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) businesses to counter intense competition in the United States, where an already saturated market is seeing the rise of fintech companies.

But the insurer's retirement business saw a 16 percent decline, as volume growth was offset by lower investment margins.

Retirement business also fell at rival Prudential Financial , which reported a quarterly profit that missed analysts' estimates, sending its shares down 3.7 percent after-hours.

A slump in income from its individual annuities business also hurt Prudential, the No. 1 U.S. life insurer by assets. [ ]

MetLife's net income rose 8 percent to $1.35 billion, or $1.40 per share, in the quarter ended March 31.

Excluding items, it earned $1.48 per share, topping analysts' estimates of $1.27, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Reporting By Aparajita Saxena in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel and Sriraj Kalluvila

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