Manulife Financial Corp. has settled long-standing class action lawsuits in Ontario and Quebec related to its disclosure of market price risk in segregated funds and variable annuity products.
The $69 million settlement, which is subject to court approval, was “made without any admission of liability,” the company said in a statement on Tuesday.
“Manulife continues to firmly believe that its disclosure satisfied applicable disclosure requirements and defended itself vigorously in these actions.”
The insurance giant’s disclosure about the exposure to market risk of some of its products caught the attention of class action lawyers and regulators after stock markets tumbled at the height of the financial crisis.
Staff of the Ontario Securities Commission delivered an enforcement notice to Manulife in June of 2009, but the company later disclosed it had been informed the OSC would not be taking further action.
By settling the class-action lawsuits, Manulife said it avoids the cost of two separate trials, and the diversion of management attention to continuing to defend against the claims.
“The agreement contains no admission of wrongdoing by Manulife or any of its former officers, nor are Manulife or any of its former officers acknowledging any liability, wrongdoing or violation of laws by entering into the settlement agreement,” the statement said.
The U.S. Federal Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed a proposed class action against Manulife involving allegations similar to those in the Ontario and Quebec proceedings.
Dates have not yet been set for settlement approval hearings in the Canadian cases.
Manulife’s share price dipped about one per cent in midday trading, a fairly muted response to the settlement of the class action lawsuits that represented a turbulent time at the company.
At the height of the financial crisis in the fall of 2008, when stock market plunged, Manulife took the dramatic step of slashing its dividend in half and issuing more than $2 billion of stock to shore up capital.
A hedging program was instituted to reduce exposure to stock market gyrations, and analyst say the company no longer treats gains and losses from market movements as “core” earnings.
Manulife also reined in sales of variable annuities under Don Guloien, a veteran executive who took over as chief executive in May of 2009.