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LEGAL & GENERAL CONTINUES TO GROW ITS PET INSURANCE BUSINESS BY ACQUIRING BUDDIES ENTERPRISES LIMITED

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LEGAL & GENERAL CONTINUES TO GROW ITS PET INSURANCE BUSINESS BY ACQUIRING BUDDIES ENTERPRISES LIMITED

Legal & General Insurance Limited announced today that is has agreed to acquire 100% of Buddies Enterprises Limited, as part of its long term strategy to grow its share of the pet insurance market.

The UK pet insurance sector now accounts for £1bn of gross written premiums and has grown at a compound annual rate of 9% over the last 5 years. However, more than half the pet owners in the UK still have no insurance cover against vet bills and other associated costs.

Legal & General’s Petonomics report, which looks at how the pet market contributes to the wider UK economy, has found that the typical dog owner spends £198 every year on their pet’s medical expenses, with cat owners paying on average £97 a year. There is therefore a significant opportunity for further growth to be achieved by combining Buddies’ specialist product and distribution expertise with Legal & General’s multi-channel distribution and broad customer base.

Buddies Enterprises Limited is a privately owned, UK-based provider of pet insurance products and specialises in working with breeders and their customers.

Cheryl Agius, CEO General Insurance, Legal & General, said:

“We are delighted to announce our acquisition of Buddies – part of our continued expansion into broader distribution channels across the pet insurance market.  Buddies is ‘best of breed’ in the pet insurance sector and bringing their expertise into Legal & General will enable us to give pet-owning customers a wider choice of insurers and products with which to address the sometimes surprisingly high costs of pet ownership.”

Marianne Metaxas, Managing Director, Buddies, said:

“We are thrilled to be part of Legal & General and look forward to further developing the successful business we have established.  Regulatory focus on the pet market and the desire for increased consumer choice mean that there are exciting opportunities ahead. With Legal & General’s reputation as a highly focused customer brand and its strength in direct sales, we are in a great position to deliver a range of innovative products across this growing market.”

The acquisition by Legal & General’s General Insurance division, is for an undisclosed price and will complete upon receipt of FCA approval.

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Health policies a shot in the arm for west European insurers hit by COVID-19

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Health policies a shot in the arm for west European insurers hit by COVID-19 1

By Inti Landauro and Sergio Goncalves

MADRID (Reuters) – When six-year-old Ainara Fuertes was in pain with an ear infection late last year, her parents wanted to take her to an emergency room at their local public hospital in the Madrid suburb of Valdeolmos-Alalpardo.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the hospital was only seeing non-COVID patients two days a week, so they had to make do with a remote consultation.

Ainara has since recovered, but her parents Diana and Javier decided, like hundreds of thousands of people across western Europe, to sign up for private health insurance to complement state coverage.

“The hospital we depend on is overwhelmed with COVID patients and we want to have more options,” said Diana, 40.

In Spain alone, almost 470,000 people signed up to health policies last year, a 47% increase from 2019.

In neighbouring Portugal, Pedro Leitao, 44, has taken out private health insurance for his 84-year-old mother, who suffered internal bleeding last November and was taken to a crammed non-COVID emergency room at a public hospital in Lisbon.

“Public hospitals are overcrowded … and the risk of infection in the emergency room is enormous,” he said. “I’d be irresponsible if I didn’t buy health insurance for my mother.”

Frank Calderon, head of the health division at Spain’s largest insurer Mapfre, whose policy the Fuertes family picked, said most new clients were families with small children.

“People are looking for flexibility and choice,” he said.

In France, where industry-wide data for 2020 are not available yet, the insurer AXA said last week that its revenue from health insurance rose 6%, while overall sales fell 4%.

And in Germany, the number of private health insurance policies rose 1.8% to 36 million last year, helping to boost premium income by 3.8% to 42.6 billion euros.

PANDEMIC PAIN

In fact, health insurance has been one of the few silver linings from the pandemic for Europe’s insurers.

Overall premium income has slumped along with customers’ earnings, while claims related to the pandemic, as well as a huge crop of natural disasters, have soared into the hundreds of billions of euros, with more to come.

In Portugal, total premium income fell 18.7% to 9.9 billion euros in 2020, with life insurance premiums down 50% – but health insurance income rose 8.3% to a record 949 million euros, according to the ASF insurance supervisory authority.

In Spain, health insurance premiums rose 5.1% even as overall premiums fell 8.3%, dragged down by the life, automotive and corporate sectors, the industry group UNESPA said.

“Private hospitals complement the needs of part of the population, especially in times of crisis when demand is putting great pressure on public hospitals,” said Pedro Carvalho, chief executive officer at Tranquilidade, Portugal’s second-largest insurer by premiums and a unit of Italy’s Generali. Even as the pandemic recedes thanks to vaccination, insurers see more health business coming their way, not least because public hospitals will have a huge backlog of treatments and operations that were postponed because of the pandemic.

“There is nothing to suggest that the current growth situation won’t continue, at least in the coming years,” ASF said.

(Reporting by Inti Landauro and by Sergio Goncalves in Lisbon and Tom Sims in Frankfurt; editing by Andrei Khalip and Kevin Liffey)

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SpaceX Starship rocket prototype nails landing… then blows up

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SpaceX Starship rocket prototype nails landing... then blows up 2

(Reuters) – The third time appeared to be the charm for Elon Musk’s Starship rocket – until it wasn’t.

The latest heavy-duty launch vehicle prototype from SpaceX soared flawlessly into the sky in a high-altitude test blast-off on Wednesday from Boca Chica, Texas, then flew itself back to Earth to achieve the first upright landing for a Starship model.

But the triumph was short-lived. Listing slightly to one side as an automated fire-suppression system trained a stream of water on flames still burning at the base of the rocket, the spacecraft blew itself to pieces about eight minutes after touchdown.

It was the third such landing attempt to end in a fireball after an otherwise successful test flight for the Starship, being developed by SpaceX to carry humans and 100 tons of cargo on future missions to the moon and Mars.

For Musk, the billionaire SpaceX founder who also heads the electric carmaker Tesla Inc, the outcome was mixed news.

The Starship SN10 came far closer to achieving a safe, vertical touchdown than two previous models – SN8 in December and SN9 in February. In a tweet responding to tempered congratulations from an admirer of his work, Musk replied, “RIP SN10, honorable discharge.”

The video feed provided by SpaceX on the company’s YouTube channel cut off moments after the landing. But separate fan feeds streamed over the same social media platform showed an explosion suddenly erupting at the base of the rocket, hurling the SN10 into the air before it crashed to the ground and became engulfed in flames.

The complete Starship rocket, which will stand 394-feet (120 metres) tall when mated with its super-heavy first-stage booster, is SpaceX’s next-generation fully reusable launch vehicle – the center of Musk’s ambitions to make human space travel more affordable and routine.

A first orbital Starship flight is planned for year’s end. Musk has said he intends to fly Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa around the moon with the Starship in 2023.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Joe Shaw in Washington; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

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Oil strengthens on prospect of OPEC+ maintaining supply cuts, drop in U.S. inventories

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Oil strengthens on prospect of OPEC+ maintaining supply cuts, drop in U.S. inventories 3

By Naveen Thukral

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Oil prices rose for a second straight session on Thursday, as the possibility that OPEC+ producers might decide against increasing output at a key meeting later in the day lent support, alongside a drop in U.S. fuel inventories.

Brent crude futures added 61 cents, or 1%, to $64.68 a barrel, as of 0428 GMT, after climbing more than 2% on Wednesday. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures gained 28 cents, or 0.5% to $61.56 a barrel.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies, together called OPEC+, are considering rolling over production cuts into April instead of raising output, as a recovery in oil demand remains fragile due to the coronavirus crisis, three OPEC+ sources told Reuters.

The market had been expecting OPEC+ to ease production cuts by around 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) from April.

“OPEC+ is currently meeting to discuss its current supply agreement. This raised the spectre of a rollover in supply cuts, which also buoyed the market,” ANZ said in a report

U.S. crude oil stockpiles surged by a record of more than 21 million barrels last week as refining plunged to an all-time low due to the Texas freeze that knocked out power for millions.

With refiners unable to process crude, gasoline and distillate inventories also dropped dramatically, especially in the Gulf Coast region where their declines set records, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday.

“Prices hinge on Russia’s and Saudi Arabia’s preference to add more crude oil production,” said Stephen Innes, global market strategist at Axi.

“Perhaps more interesting is the lack of U.S. shale (production) response to the higher crude oil prices, which is favourable for higher prices.”

(Reporting by Naveen Thukral; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Christopher Cushing)

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