Britain's biggest general insurer CGNU has posted a nine-month pre-tax loss of more than £1bn in its third quarter results, down from a £302m profit for the same period last year when using modified statutory accounting rules. The loss was still £603m compared to a profit of £844m when using the Association of British Insurers (ABI) recommended accounting format.

The insurance giant's premium income grew 10% to £21.8bn from £19.7bn last year, with general insurance premiums rising 8% from £6.4m to £6.9m.

CGNU group chief executive Bob Scott attributed the improved general insurance result to better underwriting results.

He said he believed the general insurance expense ratio, down to 10.8% from 11.9% in 1999, was the lowest among the major insurance players.

"Our intention is to increase the profitability of general insurance," he said.

"These results are a very good performance. They're an indication of where the effort is going within the group, he added."

The company also claimed improvements in UK general insurance operating ratios, claiming to have trimmed it down to 104% from 107%. This figure excluded London market business.

Personal lines business delivered a reduced operating ratio of 100%, down from 103% last year.

Scott said CGNU had completely refocused its operations. "The group strategy is to concentrate on selected markets and exit from ones performing poorly, or that don't have a good competitive position," he said.

"We're now in a stable position, going forward with businesses that we can grow and expand."

Scott said it was too soon to have a sensible view of the claims cost to insurers of recent storms and flood.

"It'll be several months before the full results are known," he said.

He said the best assessment of CGNU's net exposure had been limited to £200m.