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MetLife profit falls on derivative losses; operating profit beats

(Reuters) - MetLife Inc reported a 90 percent fall in quarterly profit on derivative losses linked to its credit spreads but the largest U.S. life insurer's operating profit beat estimates.

MetLife, heavily exposed to persistently low interest rates, has long had a substantial derivatives program designed to smooth out that risk.

But higher interest rates, foreign currency changes and impact of the company's credit spreads resulted in derivative net losses of $924 million, after tax, in the quarter. The company recorded derivative net gains of $351 million a year earlier.

Low interest rates in the U.S. have led MetLife to focus on alternative businesses to boost profit. The company agreed to buy BBVA's Chilean pension fund for about $2 billion earlier this month to expand its presence in emerging markets.

"We are executing on our strategy, including shifting our business mix toward less capital-intensive products," Chief Executive Steven Kandarian said in a statement.

The company's net income fell to $96 million, or 9 cents per share, in the fourth quarter, from $959 million, or 90 cents per share, a year earlier.

Operating profit was $1.25 per share.

Analysts on average had expected earnings of $1.18 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Operating earnings for the company's Americas region rose 21 percent to $1.3 billion, driven by Latin America.

Net investment income for the quarter was at $10.59 billion.

"Early this year, MetLife decided to place greater emphasis on U.S. individual life sales .... Looks like the strategy is paying off," Morningstar equity analyst Vincent Lui said.

MetLife shares closed at $37.50 on the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday. They have gained 16 percent in the last three months, outperforming the 13 percent rise in Dow Jones U.S. Insurance Index <.DJUSIR>.

(Reporting by Aman Shah in Bangalore; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)