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Keeping pace with its ongoing restructuring program that began in 2009, Aegon NV (NYSE:AEG) announced the sale of its funeral insurance business in Netherlands. Although the sale took place on Feb 1, 2010, it was announced on Friday. The company’s insurance unit has been disposed off to Egeria, a Dutch investment firm for €212 million.

The decision of vending off the funeral insurance business was in line with the Aegon’s strategy of reorganizing its product portfolio and getting rid of the problematic units. In February 2009, Aegon disposed off its institutional spread-based business in the U.S.

The runoff will significantly reduce the company’s exposure to credit risk and help lessen overall sensitivity to fluctuations in financial markets. We believe the sale is expected to have a positive effect on Aegon’s excess capital position and is projected to result in a modest book gain in the first half of 2010.

As such, the company has also been laying off a substantial number of its employees in order to rightsize its operations in the Netherlands. As a result, Aegon’s total workforce declined 7% in 2009 to just over 25,000 employees, mainly due to restructuring in the U.S. and the U.K., as well as the sale of real estate brokerage activities in the Netherlands and life insurance operations in Taiwan.

Earnings Highlights

On Mar 29, Aegon reported the filing of its Annual Report on Form 20-F for the year 2009 with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Accordingly, Aegon reported fourth quarter net income of €393 million, which came in substantially ahead of the net loss of €1.18 billion recorded in the year-ago quarter. The significant swing was primarily the result of improved earnings, realized gains on investments and lower impairments.

During 2009, the company realized cost reductions of €250 million, significantly ahead of the target of €150 million. Excluding the impact of restructuring charges, increased employee benefit expenses in the U.S. and currency movements, operating costs decreased in 2009 by 5% from 2008.

For full year 2009, Aegon’s underlying earnings before tax amounted to €1.2 billion, compared to €1.6 billion in 2008. New life sales declined to €2.0 billion from €2.6 billion in 2008, primarily due to weak market activity based on volatile market conditions.

However, gross deposits increased to €23.6 billion against €22.4 billion in 2008, while revenue generating investments increased to €361 billion against €332 billion in 2008. Capital position remained modestly strong.

Aegon continues to move ahead with its strategic priorities of reallocating capital towards business with higher growth and return prospects, to improve growth and returns from existing businesses and to reduce financial market risk.