Australian life insurer Axa Asia Pacific Holdings has revealed that profits from the first half of the year were up 36% to A$246.4 million, mainly as a result of strong operating earnings and an increase in fee incomes.

The group managed to exceed analyst estimates of between A$176 million and A$226 million.

Axa saw most revenue growth in its Australian and New Zealand businesses, which accounted for 59% of its total profit for the period. Operating earnings in this region rose by 32%, up to $99.8 million, thanks largely to wealth management profits and a positive domestic equity market. Financial protection also performed strongly, increasing by 14.7% to $38.3 million.

In Hong Kong, the company reported operating profits of HK$505.7 million, up 10% over the previous year, which was primarily driven by continued profitable sales growth.

The Hong Kong life market remains very attractive and we will benefit from our strong distribution footprint, said Chief Executive Les Owen. The retirement savings market is expected to more than double over the next five years, and we will continue to develop our wealth management capabilities.

Axa’s performance in China and South East Asia was also impressive, supported by an increase of 18% in the value of new business. The group’s total premium income in the region was also boosted from $190.8 million last year to $329.2 million in the first quarter 2005.

The H1 results come less than a week after Axa revealed plans to enter the Malaysian market with the proposed takeover of Tahan Insurance Malaysia Berhad. The group said it has set up a joint venture with Malaysian group Affin Holdings to acquire the life insurance arm of Tahan, which would provide access to one of the largest and fastest growing markets in Asia.

Axa is also benefiting from its bancassurance joint venture in Indonesia with Bank Mandiri, which the group says continues to achieve very strong results.

The insurer said it would continue to look for investment opportunities and acquisitions in Asia, and claims to be well advanced in its plans to enter India.