Interim results from the major insurers show their efforts to squeeze profits out of commercial lines and keep claims under control. Jason Woolfe reports

THIS was going to be the year when the general insurance industry recovered. Battered by the biggest losses in its history, 2002 was going to be the rebound.

So, it's halfway through the year, and how are the big players doing? Some have reported their interim results recently and all is not as rosy as it should be.

Aviva is rightly proud of its low expenses and its 99% combined ratio on personal lines is looking mean. But it can't touch Royal & Sun for improvements in commercial writing. R&SA managed to turn a £74m loss in the first half of last year into a £3m profit this year. But the group operating revenue fell from £366m in 2001 to £301m in the first half of this year. Big falls in share prices have pulled down the investment returns of many insurers, even where the underlying operations have turned in good performances.

Getting a clear picture is made harder by the dearth of easily comparable figures.

Royal & SunAlliance is not winning many performance plaudits at the moment - and these tables help to show why. But the country's second biggest insurer deserves an accolade for its commendably thorough reporting.

Aviva is the only rival whose numbers ease the comparison process.

We have selected some figures here to show how far the promise of 2002 has turned into reality.

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