Follow the trend seen by other reinsurance providers, Zurich Financial Services has reported a healthy profits improvement in the first half of 2006 on the back of higher premiums coupled with fewer claims.

The global insurer said H1 net income reached $2 billion, a 9% increase on the previous year. Operating profit came in at $2.8 billion, 24% up on 2005.

A major driver of Zurich’s profit boost was its property and casualty division, which benefited from an industry wide increase in premiums following the costly spate of natural disasters last year, and fewer claims in the current term.

However, general insurance gross written premiums of $18.5 billion represented a decline of 1% as reported, but the firm’s combined ratio did improve 2.1 percentage points to 94.8%.

Global life insurance new business volume grew 20% in local currency, with a new business profit margin of 17.7%.

Strong operational gains from across our businesses generated another excellent performance, remarked Zurich’s CEO James Schiro. The success of our three-year operational improvement program, combined with the improving quality of our general insurance portfolio and consistent profitable growth in the life business, gives us confidence about Zurich’s continued operational momentum.