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Property and casualty insurance has been Allianz's most profitable division, but prices there are under pressure. (Photo: Alliance.com screenshot)

(Bloomberg) — Allianz SE reported a 23 percent increase in fourth-quarter net income and announced its first-ever share buyback as Europe’s biggest insurer makes good on a promise to return excess cash to shareholders.

Net income rose to 1.74 billion euros ($1.86 billion) in the fourth quarter from 1.42 billion euros a year ago, the insurer said late Thursday in a statement from Munich. Analysts had expected earnings of 1.62 billion euros, according to the average of seven estimates compiled by Bloomberg. The company plans to spend as much as 3 billion euros to repurchase shares over the next 12 months.

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