Cgu posts UK general insurance profits of £47m for the first quarter of 2000 in what are expected to be its last quarterly figures before merging with Norwich Union at the end of May.

It compares to just £17m for the same period the year before.

Much of the improvement stemmed from rate increases and cost savings, particulatly in the motor book where rates have risen by 20% over the last 12 months. The homeowner class, which accounts for more than 20% of UK business, made a healthy proift. Liability rates have risen 8%.

Bob Scott, CGU group chief executive, said the insurer's planned merger with Norwich Union remains on target for completion at the end of May.

"The merger has received strong support from shareholders and good progress is being made on regulatory approvals around the world, including approval from the European Commission," he said.

He also said the cost savings programme has produced one of the lowest administration expense ratios of the major players in the UK with a reduction to 11% from 13% in the first quarter.

Worldwide general insurance profits leapt by 46% to £165m in the period ending March 31, 2000 thanks to improved underwriting.

Weather-related claims were a favourable £60m compared to £74m for the first three months of 1999.

Premiums for general insurance also increased 7% to £2.4bn as rates in most of CGU's markets continued to rise, particularly in motor, where rate rises averaged 20%. The insurer reports it was able to increase its revenue in marine and hull insurance as a result of additional capacity in its Lloyd's syndicates.

Added to this, CGU earned a higher return on its investments, rising £62m to £362m for the period.

Total pre-tax operating profits for the group climbed £141m to reach £396m.

CGU has embarked on a series of ambitious ecommerce ventures, following up its initiative of selling motor policies through Eurofil, France's second largest direct tele-writer, with an internet product launch for UK homebuyers, named Asserta home (see Technology pages). Home insurance now accounts for 20% of CGU's UK business.

CGU said it has already spent £37m preparing for the introduction of the single European currency in the UK. Part of these costs, £4m to be exact, are included in the first quarterly results, although CGU expects the total eventual cost to be £70m.

In the reinsurance field, CGU revealed it had reduced its strategic shareholding in Munich Re from 5% to 3.5% last April.

CGU's Life operating profits increased to £289m in the first quarter, compared to £181m in the same quarter in 1999. Total Life new business reached £1.9bn, as life and pension sales leapt by 19%.