The JSE’s worst performance in a decade in 2018 took the shine off what would have been a strong set of results for Liberty Group and evidence that CEO David Munro’s turnaround strategy for the insurer is working. On Thursday, the group, which is partly owned by Standard Bank and has a quarter of the South African life insurance market, reported a 17% drop in headline earnings for the year to end-December to R2.26bn. The decline was due to an 81% decline in investment returns from Libfin Investments, the unit that invests capital that Liberty has to hold for solvency reasons. Because it is heavily invested in a balanced fund with local equities, Libfin’s normalised headline earnings decreased to R250m from R1.3bn due to lower returns. The JSE all-share index lost 11.37% in 2018, the worst performance since the 2008 financial crisis, when it lost 25.72%. The company, which has a market capitalisation of about R29.5bn, also suffered damage to its reputation when it fell victim to the ...

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