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UPDATE 1-Ping An Insurance annual profit drops for first time since 2008

* Ping An annual net profit falls 4.2%

* COVID-19 shutdowns hampered offline sales

* New business value fell by over a third, investment returns gained (Adds details)

BEIJING/SHANGHAI, Feb 3 (Reuters) - Ping An Insurance Group Co of China Ltd , China’s largest insurer by market value, on Wednesday reported its first annual fall in profit since 2008, as COVID shutdowns hampered business growth.

The insurer reported a 4.2% drop in annual net profit, in part due to a slowdown in agent sales.

“Affected by the COVID-19 epidemic, Ping An experienced difficulties in offline business development and rising risks in retail consumer finance in 2020,” Ping An said.

Profit of 143.1 billion yuan ($22.16 billion) for the year ended December 31 was down from 149.4 billion in the previous year, the company said in a statement filed to the Hong Kong stock exchange, though that topped the 133.5 billion average estimate by 24 analysts polled by Refinitiv.

The company’s total investment income from its life and health insurance businesses, which accounts for the bulk of its profits, rose 4.5% to 182.5 billion yuan, versus 175 billion yuan a year ago.

But the new business value of the insurer’s life and health business dropped 35% to 49.6 billion yuan for the full year, compared with 76.0 billion yuan the year before.

Its banking business, Ping An Bank, this week reported a 2.6% growth in net profit to 28.9 billion yuan for 2020, with its non-performing loan ratio at a historical low of 1.18% due to rapid write-offs.

$1 = 6.4568 Chinese yuan renminbi Reporting by Cheng Leng, Zhang Yan in Beijing and Engen Tham in Shanghai; editing by Himani Sarkar, Jason Neely and Jane Merriman

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