The week's winners

Bradstock up 17.6%
SVB up 10.3%

The week's losers

Aviva down 7.3%
R&SA down 5.3%

Aviva's latest trading update did little for the fortunes of the insurance sector.

Investors were nonplussed to learn that the group's worldwide new business sales were down a touch last year, to £14.6bn, from £15bn in 2001.

The stock had lost 10p, or 2.4%, by the afternoon after the announcement and the group's own figures demonstrated the extent of the scepticism among investors.

Investment sales were held back by their caution, the company said, and group chief executive Richard Harvey admitted market conditions would stay difficult for 2003.

Of course, it's that in the face of so much doom and gloom on the life side, Aviva and other composites should be dusting off their enthusiasm for commercial and non-life insurance.

They'll be keen to catch up with those who have already positioned themselves as non-life specialists and who now should be writing some of their most profitable business.

One report this week suggested the average Lloyd's syndicate has grown its 2003 capacity by a whopping 43%, bringing the average size to more than £200m.

Stocks for quoted operators such as Amlin, Brit and Goshawk have been quietly rising for the past few months; even though the optimism in the market is well-founded, they are also being affected by the same investor caution as Aviva.

Meanwhile analysts at Commerzbank said 11% price rises in European non-life insurance would lead to big drops in combined ratios at Allianz and Zurich Financial Services.

From its 2001 combined ratio of 108.8%, Allianz itself predicteed that it would fall below 100% by the end of this year.

Commerzbank was more conservative, predicting 102% for 2003 and 100% by the end of 2004.

Zurich's 2001 figure was 111.9% and would drop to 99.1% in 2003 and 98.6% in 2004, the bank said.