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The Sun Life Financial logo is seen at their corporate headquarters in Toronto on Feb. 11, 2019.

CHRIS HELGREN/Reuters

Two of Canada’s largest insurers reported earnings on Wednesday evening, with Sun Life Financial Inc. beating expectations and Manulife Financial Corp. falling a bit short.

Sun Life Financial reported fourth-quarter net income of $580-million, or 96 cents per share, up from $207-million or 34 cents per share in 2017’s fourth quarter.

Manulife Financial reported fourth-quarter net income of $593-million, or 28 cents per share, compared with a loss of $1.61-billion, or 83 cents per share in 2017’s fourth quarter.

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Both insurers had a big gain in earnings compared to the 2017 period because they took big charges against earnings in that year due to changes in U.S. tax laws.

Sun Life and Manulife view earnings measures that exclude some costs as a useful measure of their performance. Both companies exclude, for example, the effects of changes they make in actuarial assumptions, such as how long a customer will live, for the life insurance policies they have sold.

Sun Life reports what it calls “underlying net income," which was $718-million, or $1.19 per share. Analysts expected, on average, $1.15 per share, according to Thomson Reuters Eikon.

Manulife reported what it refers to as “core earnings" of $1.34-billion, or 65 cents per share. Analysts expected, on average, 66 cents per share, according to Eikon.

Manulife also announced on Wednesday it would more than double its stock buyback program if regulators approve. It said it has already repurchased 30.6 million shares of a 40-million-share program. The increase in the buyback plan would boost the number of common shares involved to 99 million, about 5 per cent of the company. In a statement, the company said “in its view, recent market prices do not reflect the underlying value of Manulife’s business.”

Last week, Great West Lifeco Inc., another one of Canada’s top life insurance firms, kicked off the sector’s earnings season with a slight miss to analysts’ consensus expectation. Great West Life reported adjusted earnings of 72 cents per share, just under the analysts’ forecast of 74 cents per share, according to Eikon.

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