John Hancock ( JHF) posted a rise in first-quarter profit thanks in part to the sale of its landmark glass-tower headquarters in Boston.

The company earned 88 cents a share in the quarter ended March 31, compared with 49 cents a share in the prior-year period. Consolidated net operating income was 74 cents a share, up from 68 cents a share in the first quarter of 2002. Analysts expected 72 cents a share, on average.

Net income was $253.2 million, up 73% from last year's $146.5 million. The company said it sold its headquarters and two other buildings for $910 million. The sale resulted in a pretax profit gain of $234 million. A total pretax gain of $570 million from the sale will be taken over the course of a few years, the company said.

John Hancock also said it had an improvement in retail fixed annuities, its Maritime Life operations and the nontraditional life and long-term care lines in its protection segment during the quarter.

Revenue was $2.3 billion, compared with $2.1 billion in the 2002 quarter.

Looking to 2003 results, the life insurer expects earnings to grow 7% to 11%. "However, we have revised upward our estimate of gross losses from asset impairments and sales, although we still expect to increase book value in line with expected earnings growth," said Chief Executive David D'Alessandro. The company expects total pretax gross investment losses to between $650 million and $750 million.

"We are very disappointed that the weakness in the economy appears to be lingering even with the Iraqi war situation largely resolved," said D'Alessandro. "Our core businesses are strong and, with the gain from the sale of the home office properties, embedded gains in our portfolios and potential recoveries on impaired securities, we expect to fully maintain our strong capital position."

Shares of the company closed at $28.76 Thursday.

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