UK car insurer Admiral Group posted a 14% rise in annual profit despite operating in difficult markets, and the firm has also announced its first overseas venture.

Profit before tax rose to GBP119.5 million and turnover grew to GBP638.4 million from GBP548 million a year earlier. The insurer said it would pay a special dividend to shareholders of 7.1 pence per share on top of a normal payout of 7.8 pence per share. The company said that it is working towards launching a direct private motor insurance operation in Spain around the end of 2006.

Insurance quote comparison site achieved a pre-tax profit of GBP6.8 million for the group, which also owns brands such as Admiral, Bell Direct, Diamond, and Gladiator Commercial. The group announced an employee share scheme, with over 1500 staff set to receive around 400,000 free shares based on H2 2005 results, valued at GBP3,000.

Group chief executive Henry Engelhardt said: We’re delighted to be again reporting record profits and strong growth in turnover, despite the challenging market environment. Admiral’s performance demonstrates the strength of its business model and the effectiveness of its distribution strategy. It also goes to show what motivated staff can accomplish.

Admiral also named deputy finance director Kevin Chidwick as finance director designate following the retirement of the current finance director Andrew Probert.