by Jason Woolfe

Benfield is set to float in London after going back into the black.

The world's largest privately-owned reinsurance broker returned to profit last year, reporting £10.4m before tax against a loss of £35.8m in 2001.

The group's results will be critical to the success of its long-awaited flotation.

The company reiterated its intentions, originally announced in November, but held back from setting a date.

Reports suggested the group could still be planning to go to the market within six weeks. It would become London's largest listing in nearly a year if it achieves a value in the £650m to £900m range expected by analysts.

Despite revenue growth being distorted by the group's acquisition in April last year of EW Blanch, it said turnover increased in all areas of the business. The total increase was 31.5% to £284.5m from £216.4m the year before.

The restructuring needed as a result of the acquisition contributed to exceptional costs of £17.3m, lower than 2001's £59.7m. Operating profit excluding exceptional charges and goodwill amortisation increased by 9.5% to £56.2m from £51.3m.

Earnings per share, also excluding exceptional charges and goodwill amortisation, increased by 31.5% to 71p.

Chief executive Grahame Chilton reiterated the company's intention to float on the London Stock Exchange.

The group also announced the appointment of two non-executive directors. They are Paul Roy, formerly co-president of global markets and investment banking at Merrill Lynch Europe and Andrew Fisher, chief executive of the Fisher Group.

Former Conservative front bencher Francis Maude is stepping up from non-executive director to deputy chairman.