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Manulife Financial Corp. chief executive Don Guloien is a glass-half-full kind of guy. The company has had its challenges, to say the least. But he's looking forward to the year ahead.

"I'm very optimistic," he says. "I feel good about the amount that we've hedged, I feel very good about the level of capital we have, and I feel very good about the prospects we have for both organic growth and acquisitions."

"That's short of a guarantee," he adds. "There's obviously no certainty about what will happen in the economy, and it is worrying that so many people are still unemployed."

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But, one has to assume that, given what Manulife's gone through in the past year, things can only look up.

Manulife's headaches have stemmed from its variable annuity business, which resulted in it holding a massive portfolio of stocks on behalf of its customers, to whom it has guaranteed payments years from now. When markets plunged in late 2008, so did that portfolio. That forced the insurer to sock away billions, because of rules designed to ensure it will be able to pay customers the amounts it has promised.

In a note to clients, Credit Suisse analyst Jim Bantis notes that Mr. Guloien now believes he's achieved his goal of raising "fortress" levels of capital. The insurer says that it could now withstand a 40 per cent drop in stock markets and still have enough capital to meet the minimum regulatory requirements, he noted.

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