New business figures at insurer Legal & General broke through the £1 billion barrier last year as sales of savings products soared.

Globally, the group under-wrote policies valued at £1.3 billion in 2005, a 29 per cent increase over the previous year.

In what it yesterday called a "year of remarkable growth", its UK retail, corporate and pensions operations rose by 32 per cent to £1.19 billion.

L&G said it had benefited from distribution agreements with banks and building societies, while the environment for UK savings and investment products had been strong following a rally in consumer confidence.

Against that, the slower housing market affected the mortgage protection and general insurance business, much of which is run from L&G's fast-growing Birmingham office.

The value of mortgage-related polices dipped by 17 per cent to £91 million, and general insurance gains fell by eight per cent to £47 million.

Tim Breedon, who replaced Sir David Prosser as chief executive, predicted further progress in 2006, particularly as new pensions rules should stimulate demand in April.

He also forecast a pick-up in demand for protection products, particularly business linked to mortgages following a recovery in house market activity.

Mr Breedon added: "We believe that investor confidence will show further improvement and that a cautious upturn in the housing market will lead to a gradual recovery in protection volumes.

"If you take these figures, the rising stock market, a slight increase in buying direct online, I would say there's pretty good evidence of improving investor confidence long-term savings."

Yesterday's figures showed strong demand for unit-linked bonds lifted sales of savings products by 17 per cent to £63 million in the fourth quarter.

The figure is on an annual premium equivalent basis - the standard industry measure that strips out volatility by including new regular premiums plus ten per cent of single premiums.

In pensions, Legal reported an increase of 33 per cent to £73 million.

Legal & General, Britain's third biggest insurer behind Aviva and Prudential, is, according to the figures, outstripped estimating sector growth of 5-10 per cent by a big margin.

Mr Breedon's growth strategy does not include plans for any acquisitions.

"We're investing available capital in growing market share profitably in the UK," he said.

"When we look at things overseas they look relatively unattractive compared to the alternative uses of capital we have."