Munich Re, the world's biggest reinsurer, expressed optimism with regard to the outlook for business this year and reignited speculation about the future of its partner, HypoVereinsbank, by saying it expected to slash its stake in the bank. Munich Re chairman Nikolaus von Bomhard told the group's annual earnings news conference that the bank expected to turn in net profit of more than €2 billion ($2.6 billion) this year, compared with bottom-line earnings of €1.88 billion in 2004. Munich Re had managed to return to profit last year, despite the financial fallout for the industry from the unprecedented series of natural catastrophes. The hurricanes that battered the east coast of the United States, the typhoons in the Pacific region and the deadly tsunami that ravaged South Asia at the end of last year cost Munich Re around €713 million, it said. The reinsurance giant said it was forecasting a slight increase in premium income and a strong rise in earnings this year following a satisfactory performance in 2004. Munich Re said it was forecasting premium income of €38.5 billion in 2005, up from €38.07 billion in 2004.