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) -- Metlife has predicted major gains in operating earnings next year -- progress that the company largely attributes to an increase in premiums.

Metlife expects operating earnings to grow about 50% in 2010 over 2009 to $4 to $4.40 per share, or between $3.3 billion and $3.6 billion. The average Wall Street forecast for Metlife's operating earnings is $4.11 a share, according to Thomson Reuters.

The growth figure reflects a 6% to 8% increase in premiums, fees and other revenues, improving investment margins and lower expenses. However, it is worth noting that the predicted operating earnings for 2010 do not include a possible after-income-tax charge of $30 million, or 4 cents per share.

For the fourth quarter of 2009, Metlife projects profits of $340 million to $485 million, or 41 to 59 cents per share compared with $954 million or $1.20 in the year-ago period. The company says the jarring difference between the figures is partly attributable to large, after-income-tax derivative gains that the company made last year. The company uses derivatives to hedge against risks such as fluctuating interest rates and foreign currencies, which can have an adverse impact on certain Metlife insurance liabilities.

Metlife stock has settled 1% higher at $35.70.

Other insurance stocks settled in mixed territory.


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-- Reported by Andrea Tse in New York

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