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Aflac Boosts Dividend

But fourth-quarter profit falls.
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posted a lower profit for the fourth quarter and boosted its quarterly dividend by 18%.

For the quarter ended Dec. 31, earnings fell to $364 million, or 72 cents a diluted share, from $410 million, or 80 cents a share, a year ago. Revenue rose 3.5% from a year ago to $3.6 billion.

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Operating earnings, excluding realized investment gains and losses, rose to $298 million, or 59 cents a share, from $293 million, or 57 cents a share, a year ago. Latest-quarter operating earnings reflected an after-tax charge of $18 million, or 3 cents per diluted share, for writing off the remaining portion of previously capitalized system development costs in Japan. In addition, the significantly weaker yen/dollar exchange rate compared with a year ago reduced operating earnings by 3 cents a share in the quarter. Analysts were looking for a 63-cent profit.

"We have retained our objective for increasing operating earnings per diluted share 15% to $2.92 before the impact of foreign currency translation in 2006," CEO Dan Amos said. "In May 2005, we established a 2007 objective of a 13% to 16% increase in operating earnings per diluted share before the effect of currency. Based on the development of our business since that time, we now believe it is reasonable to produce a 15% to 16% increase in operating earnings per diluted share in 2007 before currency fluctuations. We believe our financial modeling is sound and our modeling assumptions reasonable. And we believe that achieving our targets will be rewarding to our shareholders."

The company also boosted its dividend to 13 cents from 11 cents, payable March 1 to holders of record Feb. 17.