CZECH REPUBLIC - Penzijni fond Ceske Pojistovny, or PFCP, the second largest Czech pension fund, showed a profit of 295 million crowns (9.1 million euros) last year, a 47% increase over 2002.

"PFCP signed 86,000 new contracts last year, increasing thus the number of its clients to 464,000," said chief executive Tomas Matousek.

The fund saw the volume of assets under its management rise by half year-on-year to 11.1 billion crowns in 2003.

PFCP is to become the biggest Czech pension fund this year. At the end of 2003, the fund owner Ceska Pojistovna acquired a 69.7% stake in the ABN Amro Penzijni fond pension fund.

The merger was recently approved by Czech state authorities and is yet to be signed by the ABN PF shareholders. After the merger, PFCP will have 670,000 clients, overtaking current market leader Credit Suisse Life and Pensions.

PFCP is 100% controlled by Ceska Pojistovna, the Czech Republic's largest insurance company. Ceska Pojistovna is owned by the PPF financial group.

More than one quarter of the 10.2 million Czechs have signed a contract with a pension fund. The number of pension funds' clients rose by 118,000 year-on-year to 2.74 million in 2003. Their clients have deposited some 12 billion crowns into their accounts last year.

A total of 12 pension funds operate on the Czech market. The number dropped from 44 in mid 1990s due to a wave of mergers, according to the Czech Association of Pension Funds.

The Czech government plans to submit the main principles of the pension reform to Parliament by mid-2004. The reform should boost the role of private pension funds.