Wellington chief executive Julian Avery has reiterated the views of other senior industry figures by stating that while rates were softening, "this is certainly not a soft market, nor anywhere near it".

Avery made the statement as Wellington announced a pre-tax profit of £32.4m for the six months to 30 June, up 33% on the same period last year. Gross written premiums increased to £294.2m, from £265.2m, while the net combined ratio fell to 84%, compared to 92% in the first half of 2003.

The company reported a £3.1m return on its 19.8% stake in the Bermuda-based insurer Aspen, and said it expected the capacity of Syndicate 2020 to remain at £730m in 2005.

On the direction of rates, Avery said: "The recent hurricane activity, and two particularly strong storms in Charley and Frances, should serve to remind markets that rates need to be maintained to ensure that insurers and reinsurers can deliver an appropriate return on capital."