Hardy reported a "spectacular" first half investment gain of £3.1m as its own stock-picking skills put its portfolio managers' performance to shame.

The lion's share of the gain came from the increasing value of fellow Lloyd's insurer Atrium, in which Hardy built up a 24% stake last year at 75p a share. Atrium stock now trades for 167p a share.

The rest of Hardy's investment portfolio made a return of £1.2m compared to £192,000 in the same period last year.

The group recently took on a team of three ex-Trenwick underwriters to boost its financial institutions book, expected to account for about £18m of income next year.

Hardy is also expanding its UK direct property book, expected to be about £8m to £10m next year.