, Britain's biggest insurer, on Tuesday met forecasts with a 7 percent increase in its 2011 profit, helped by continued strong growth at its flagship Asian operation.

Prudential, which gets about 45 percent of its sales in Asia, made an operating profit of 2 billion pounds ($3.12 billion) last year, it said on Tuesday, in line with the expectations of analysts polled by the company.

The improvement was driven by Prudential's Asian division, which was for the first time the biggest contributor to group earnings with profit up 32 percent at 709 million pounds.

The 164-year old insurer has prioritised Asia, using cash generated by its mature UK business to fund expansion across the region, where robust economic growth has fostered a rising middle class with strong appetite for life insurance and savings products.

Prudential shares, which were trading about 1 percent higher before publication of the group's results, were up 1.5 percent at 8.25 a.m., giving the group a market value of about 18.5 billion pounds.

The stock has risen 12.7 percent since the beginning of the year, narrowly underperforming a 13 percent rise for the Stoxx 600 European insurance shares index <.SXIP>.

In 2010, Prudential made a failed attempt to double its presence in Asia by buying Hong Kong-based rival AIA for $35.5 billion, provoking strong criticism from shareholders who were left to shoulder 377 million pounds in fees and costs.

(Reporting by Myles Neligan; editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta)