Willis produced triumphant results for 2002, showing operating cash earnings up 69% in the fourth quarter compared to the year before.

The UK-based global broker achieved a figure of $83m (£51.2m), up from $49m (£30.2m) in 2001.

Total revenues were up 25% to $483m (£299m) in the fourth quarter, compared to $387m (£238.7m) the year before. Year on year, revenues rose to $1.7bn (£1.07bn) from $1.4bn (£878.4m).

Organic revenue growth, excluding the effects of foreign exchange, acquisitions and disposals, rose to 18% for 2002, up from 12% in 2001.

The numbers gave Willis its twelfth consecutive quarter of record operating results, chief executive Joe Plumeri said.

Willis has been using its earnings to pay back $220m (£136m) of debt in the past year and will pay a quarterly dividend of 25 cents.

The company forecast that recent reserving by insurers - such as moves to protect against asbestosis claims - could keep the market harder for longer.

It reported directors' and officers' (D&O) rates increasing from 50% up to 200% and demand for alternative forms of protection.

"We've seen some levelling of property rates, but there's evidence of increased demand for alternative risk transfer solutions, including captives," it said.