Investment returns nearly doubled for Finnish pensions insurance company Ilmarinen in the first half of this year, rising to 6.2% from 3.4% in the same period last year, even though the provider said market conditions had been difficult.

In its interim report, Ilmarinen said its investment portfolio had grown by €2.1bn between January and June compared to growth of €1.1bn in the first half of 2014.

Total investment assets rose to €36.4bn at the end of June from €33.5bn 12 months before, it said.

Investment markets had been marked by uncertainty between April and June after a strong start to the year, Ilmarinen said.

Timo Ritakallio, president and chief executive of Ilmarinen, said: “The investment environment became extremely challenging during the second quarter due to fluctuating stock prices and the fast growth of long-term interest rates. 

“The culmination of the situation in Greece at the very end of the quarter also gave investors cause for concern,” he said.

On the business side, Ilmarinen’s sales fell in the first half, with premiums written shrinking to €47m from €53m in the first half of 2014.

Ritakallio said taking on new customers had gone as planned between January and June, but that the company had fallen short of targets retaining customers.

“We have already launched measures for improving customer retention,” he said.

Within investment, equities produced a 14.0% return in the first half, up from 5.5% in the comparable period last year, and fixed income investments generated 0.8%, up from 2.2%.

Direct real estate investments, meanwhile, returned 2.6%, up from 2.4%.

Ilmarinen’s CIO Mikko Mursula said investors would be taking a close look at US economic growth in the latter part of this year, including any interest rate hikes and the economic outlook for China.

There had already been signs of economic growth in Europe, he said.

“What we are waiting to see is whether European companies’ results will begin to reflect the impacts of lower interest rates, low oil prices and a cheaper euro,” Mursala said.