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Principal CEO Larry Zimpleman: Q&A

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Principal Financial Group (PFG - Get Report) turned in a strong first-quarter profit after Monday's closing bell, beating Wall Street's consensus estimate by a dime.

But despite posting quarterly earnings of $190 million for the March period, an increase of nearly 70% from its year-ago total, shares of the Des Moines, Iowa-based provider of insurance products and retirement savings plans for corporations were pulling back on Tuesday amid the weakness in the broad market.

One area of concern for Principal Financial was weakness in the company's health division, where earnings dropped 15% year-over-year because of a decline in the number of group medical-covered members. TheStreet recently spoke to CEO Larry Zimpleman about how he thinks the new health care legislation will affect the company and other issues.

401k's Coming Back

TheStreet: Larry, what trends are you seeing right now in finance? What seems to be doing better and what's still struggling?

Larry Zimpleman: Well, certainly the market has come back as we all know over the last 12 months and we're all sort of glad and thankful for that. I think the primary area today that's still under a little bit of pressure would be credit flowing to small and medium businesses. We still haven't see a full restoration of that and then probably the other area that we still had some level of pain attached to it would be commercial real estate here in the U.S.

TheStreet: That's a good topic, commercial real estate. Are you seeing a bottom in this area? We had heard there was going to be a huge commercial real estate bust like we saw with housing, but it really hasn't materialized.

Zimpleman: No it really hasn't. I think there are some reasons that it's different. First of all, commercial real estate generally involves much more sophisticated borrowers and lenders. I think that makes a difference. We do think commercial real estate is bottoming out in terms of prices. We've seen prices come off about 35% peak to trough. The recovery will be a little bit spotty. It would depend. For example, Phoenix and Las Vegas would be different than New York or Washington [D.C.]. But there is pretty clear indication that we've bottomed out and we're starting to see money that's starting to get ready to come into that market, which I think is positive as we go forward.

TheStreet: What about rents in that area?

Zimpleman: Rents have stabilized. Again, it depends on type of property and depends on location. But I think even here in New York for example you've actually started to see some early indications of actual rent increases.
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