JOHANNESBURG - Discovery Holdings, South Africa's largest health insurer, posted a 14 percent rise in full-year earnings on Wednesday boosted by premium income from new business.

Discovery said diluted normalised headline earnings per share totalled 416.9 cents in the year to end-June, compared with 365.5 cents a year earlier.

The insurer had flagged that normalised headline earnings - which excludes one-off times such as the acquisition of Standard Life Healthcare and increased stakes in PruHealth and PruProtect - had increased by between 10 and 20 percent.

Analysts had been expecting profit to rise by about 22 percent, according to the average forecast in a poll of 9 analysts by Thomson Reuters.

Discovery weathered the financial crisis and subsequent downturn in Africa's biggest economy better than some rivals as it focused on health insurance, which is less sensitive to economic cycles than life insurance.

Discovery said operating profit increased by 21 to 3.4 billion rand ($404.71 million), while new business premium income rose 24 percent.

Income from insurance premiums rose to 14.69 billion rand from 12.49 billion while annual gross inflows under management rose 14 percent to 35.96 billion rand.

Shares of Discovery were down 1.9 percent at 56.85 rand, are down 0.6 percent at 57.57 rand, compared with a 0.3 percent fall in Johannesburg's All-share index. - Reuters