Lloyd's company Wellington Underwriting reported a drop in half-year operating profits to £5.6 million compared to £6m for the same period in 1998.

But this includes £1.9m of releases from reserves compared to zero the year before.

Wellington has acquired a further £14m of managed capacity bringing its total to 44% for the year 2000 account.

Managing director Julian Avery blamed deteriorating trading conditions for the profit downturn but was upbeat about the underwriting performance.

The combined ratio of 86.7% is well ahead of industry average, he observed.

"We have carefully husbanded our resources and maintained our balance sheet, and the opportunities which the turn in the market will present are exciting," he said.

"With insurance rates now at unsustainable low levels, and underwriting capacity being eliminated by a spate of catastrophe losses, the turn in the market cannot be far away."