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Great-West Lifeco world headquarters is pictured in WinnipegJOHN WOODS/The Canadian Press

Great-West Lifeco Inc. reported a fourth-quarter profit of $717-million or 72 cents per common share on Thursday, up significantly from the $351-million or 37 cents per common share one year ago.

The insurance and investments company said it got a boost in the quarter from a litigation recovery, which amounted to $226-million after-tax.

Great-West's profits for 2013 hit $2.3-billion or $2.34 per common share. That compares to $1.8-billion or $1.90 per common share a year ago.

Excluding the litigation, as well as the costs of the acquisition of Irish Life Group Ltd., operating earnings were $540-million or 54 cents per common share in the fourth quarter, a 10 per cent increase from the $491-million or 52 cents per common share one year earlier. This operating earnings figure missed analyst expectations of 61 cent per share.

"Great-West announced a fairly sizable miss, which is quite unusual for the insurer," said John Aiken, analyst at Barclays Capital, in a note to clients.

Great-West's businesses grew assets under administration to more than $758-billion. This was a $212-billion increase from a year earlier when the group of assets it acquired with its $1.75-billion deal for Irish Life is factored in.

In Canada, Great-West said that sales were flat year over year, with positive wealth management and individual insurance sales offset by lower group insurance sales, which were stronger in the third quarter.

In the United States, Great-West's asset management business Putnam Investments lost money in the quarter, but sales of investment products were up to $8.3-billion (U.S.) in the quarter, a 22 per cent increase from the same time last year. Mutual funds drove a lot of those gains, and sales of these funds hit their highest point in more than a decade.

The U.S. Great-West Financial business, which offers defined contribution pension plans and individual retirement accounts among other things, was up 97 per cent to $5.3-billion. This business line benefited from a large plan sale it identified as "public/non-profit," as well as sales of two large defined-contribution pension accounts, called 401(k) plans in the U.S.

Great-West shares have fallen lightly in 2014, but climbed nearly 36 per cent in 2013.