Royal & SunAlliance has lost 6% of its UK general insurance book in the past six months, mainly because it continues to sacrifice market share for profitability. And pre-tax profits fell from £429m to £16m.

But worldwide general insurance business grew by 17% to £4.3bn, largely on the back of acquisitions in the US and Scandinavia, such as Orion and Trygg-Hansa.

The general business result has risen from £168m last year to £218m, and overall the group posts a marginal rise in operating profit from £315m to £320m.

Chief executive Bob Mendelsohn said: “Double-digit average rate rises across our UK motor business are still being achieved and the business which we are currently underwriting is achieving its target return.”

The insurer has continued to improve its loss ratio to 107.6%, compared to 108% in the first half of 1999.

Mendelsohn said the group was on track to achieve an operating ratio – which measures total claims and expenses paid as a proportion of premiums – of 103% by January 2001, which would generate a return of 10%, net of tax and inflation.

Life assurance operating profits fell from £133m to £124m. Royal & SunAlliance invested just under £40m in internet initiatives in the first half of this year, out of a planned full year investment of £100m.

In the UK, the insurer has launched a website to sell pet insurance,, as well as an estate agency web site,