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Manulife Financial Corp. is boosting its quarterly dividend 12 per cent after it capped a stronger 2019 with net earnings more than doubling in the fourth quarter.

The Toronto-based insurer says it will increase the payout by three cents per share to 28 cents, payable on or after March 19 to shareholders of record on Feb. 25.

Manulife says it earned $1.23 billion for the three months ended Dec. 31, up from $593 million a year earlier.

Last year’s net income included a restructuring charge. Excluding one-time items, core earnings increased 10.5 per cent to $1.48 billion from $1.34 billion. That equalled 73 cents per diluted share up from 65 cents per share in the prior year and one cent below analyst forecasts, according to the financial markets data firm Refinitiv.

For the full year, its net earnings grew 16.7 per cent to $5.6 billion. Core earnings were up seven per cent to $6 billion or $2.97 per diluted share, one cent below forecasts.

Chief executive Roy Gori says its performance last year was driven by double-digit growth in Asia. Its insurance business added 15 per cent in new business value and its global wealth and asset management business generated net inflows of $4.9 billion despite the impact of a challenging operating environment.

The company has been taking steps to transform the overall organization, including aiming to free up $5 billion in capital by 2022.

As well, last June, Manulife announced it was cutting about 700 jobs as part of a plan to streamline and digitize its customer service operations.

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