QBE Insurance Group, Australia's largest property and casualty insurer, could see first half profits rise 21%, boosted by premiums from UK and US acquisitions, Bloomberg has reported.

The news service reported that Frank O’Halloran, chief executive of QBE, hopes that last year’s acquisitions, including a UK-based ship insurer and a US farm insurer, would boost 2006 premiums by more than A$600 million. The group also bought units in Colombia, France, Germany and Spain last year.

The report also stated that Mr O’Halloran is trying to buy out competitors in order to increase sales for the year by 10% to A$10.4 billion.

According to Bloomberg, in April 2006 the QBE chief executive said the group was in talks to acquire assets in Europe, the US, Latin America and Asia. He also said the group’s insurance margin, used to measure the profitability of its policies, will rise by 17% during the year.

The Sydney-based insurer’s net income was up at A$595 million ($457 million) in the first half of 2006 ending June 30, from A$491 million in 2005.

QBE has operations in 41 countries and earns around three-quarters of its premium income offshore.