Zurich Financial Services has achieved a substantial turnaround in its general insurance business, as the operating result for its Eagle Star division soared from a loss of £109m in 1998 to a profit of £2m in 1999.

Gross written premium income for Eagle Star, however, fell to £246m last year from £274m in 1998.

A Zurich spokeswoman said the figures reflected a shift in Eagle Star's strategy from high volume business to a focus on more profitable lines.

She added that Zurich had made a conscious decision to reconsider its presence in any market where its profit margins were being squeezed.

The insurer's combined underwriting ratio has fallen from 122.5 to 111.7.

Zurich announced last week it was pulling out of the motorcycle market, and last January it stated it would cease writing motor trade business, saying pricing levels were unprofitable.

However, Zurich said it is seeing significant growth in certain other areas of its business including its Eagle Star personal motor and household lines, small and medium commercial lines and local authority insurer Zurich Municipal.

Zurich is also investing in digital television and last March, it sealed a deal with cable company Telewest to sell personal lines to more than four million people by the end of the year.