LONDON (AFX) - Heritage Underwriting PLC, the Lloyd's insurer, saw first half gross written premiums nearly double to 114.3 mln stg from 64.2 mln, as the company capitalised on surging property catastrophe rates.

Heritage's first half combined ratio -- costs and claims expenses as a proportion of premium income, a key indicator of profitability -- fell to 88 pct from 94 pct. Under 100 pct denotes profitability.

Pexton's confidence in the high rates is reflected by Heritage's plan to increase underwriting capacity to 315 mln stg in 2007, a 19 pct increase from 2006. The company said that it expects to receive commitments by November. Most of the increase will come in the property insurance business, which will increase to 260 mln, an increase of 21 pct from 2006.

The company also reaffirmed that it would not be paying out an interim dividend, but added that it was intending to pay a final dividend of 2.5 pence.

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