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Hartford Boosts Buybacks, Raises Dividend 50%

Hartford Financial CEO Liam McGee
Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. Chief Executive Officer Liam McGee said "the financial position, capital flexibility and risk profile of the company have continued to improve." Photographer: Jonathan Fickies/Bloomberg

Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. boosted its plan for buybacks and lifted its dividend by 50 percent after Chief Executive Officer Liam McGee sold assets to simplify the insurer. The stock rallied in New York trading.

The repurchase authorization was increased to $1.25 billion from $500 million, according to a statement today from Hartford which is based in the Connecticut city of the same name.

McGee has sold a life insurer to Prudential Financial Inc. and divested a broker dealer as he focuses on property-casualty coverage. He also used hedges to guard against currency fluctuations and stock-market declines on annuities issued in prior years after the company retreated from the market.

“The financial position, capital flexibility and risk profile of the company have continued to improve,” McGee, 58, said in the statement.

Hartford jumped 2.8 percent to $29.99 at 4:03 p.m., the biggest increase in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Insurance Index. The company has advanced 34 percent this year.

The quarterly dividend will be 15 cents a share, up from 10 cents. Hartford cut its dividend to 5 cents in 2009 as losses tied to the financial crisis drained capital and the company took a U.S. rescue that it later repaid. The quarterly payout was as high as 53 cents a share in 2008.

The sales of Hartford’s individual life, retirement, annuities-distribution and broker-dealer businesses have freed up more than $2 billion of capital. Hartford said in February it would reduce debt by about $1 billion and repurchase as much as $500 million in stock by the end of 2014.

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