Insurance giant QBE reported record profits for 2004.

The Australian group increased operating profits after tax by 43%, from A$572 (£236m) in 2003 to A$820 (£338m) for the year ended 31 December 2004.

The insurer's European division reported a 7% increase in the gross written premiums for 2004, rising from $1.7bn (£884m) to $1.8bn (£936m).

The combined operating ratio for the division improved from 90.6% in 2003 to 89.8% in 2004.

The group's Lloyd's division, Limit, reported a 7% increase in gross written premiums to $2.3bn (£1.2bn).

The combined operating ratio improved from 95.1% to 92.1%. But it claims ratio showed a decline from 57.8% in 2003 to 60.6% in 2004.

Limit said its 2005 renewal season had been "reasonably successful" with premium rates in line with its direct business forecast.

Growth in 2005, it said, would be "difficult to achieve" due to disciplined rates, a weakness in the US dollar against sterling, and the transfer of its Ensign motor business to QBE's European operations.

QBE chief executive Steven Burns said QBE had increased its focus on its portfolio performance alongside increasing policy rates and improving policy terms and conditions.

But he said improvements had been offset "by a deterioration in the results from our reinsurance business, which was affected by the increased number of catastrophes during 2004".

He said other offsets were an upgrade of prior year outstanding claims provisions for US casualty, UK motor excess of loss and other old run-off portfolios.