Munich Re has pledged to keep its dividend stable in spite of a series of natural disasters and Greek debt writedowns that helped wipe out 71 per cent of its annual profits.

Post-tax profits, before minorities, at the world’s biggest reinsurance company by gross written premium, fell from €2.43bn to €710m in 2011, which the group said was the costliest year on record for natural catastrophes.

The results were helped by a €550m benefit from tax income, mainly resulting from the year’s large damage claims.

Although profits collapsed in the first nine months of the year, an improvement in investment income in the final quarter helped net income recover from €480m a year earlier to €630m.

Some brokers had feared that Munich Re would struggle to cover its dividend – which it has not cut since 1969 – as a result of a strained capital position.

Yet the results at the reinsurer, whose biggest shareholder is Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, were not as bad as expected and shares ticked up €1, or 1 per cent, to €102.55 in early Frankfurt trading. The group plans to maintain the annual dividend at €6.25 a share.

Jörg Schneider, finance director, said that Munich Re had “never experienced a year like 2011 before – extreme burdens from natural catastrophes combined with the financial crisis”.

But he added: “Our solid capital situation enables us to again pay out a total of €1.1bn to our shareholders.”

In addition to disasters such as the earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand, and floods in Thailand, the reinsurance industry has also had to grapple with meagre investment returns.

Munich Re said it had taken aggregate investment writedowns in the year of €1.6bn, including a €1.2bn hit from Greek government debt.

Although investment income recovered in the fourth quarter, it was still down 22 per cent over the year at €6.8bn.

Gross premiums written by the group in 2011 rose from €45.5bn to €49.6bn.

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