Irish Life & Permanent today says it expects overall group pre-tax operating profit growth for the year to exceed 20%.

In a trading statement, the lender said that the economic context in which it operates is very positive and supportive of the business.

IL&P says its banking business is seeing record volume growth in a buoyant market, where it is winning customers and market share.

'This performance together with a strong treasury result is expected to deliver significant operating profit growth - well ahead of previous guidance - in the bank for the year,' the statement says.

It added that its life and pensions' business is also performing 'exceptionally well' with the strong first half performance continuing into the second half, with some additional boost to retail life sales from maturing SSIAs.

'Operating profit for the year is expected comfortably exceed previous guidance,' the bank says.

Irish Life & Permanent says that gross new lending in its banking business is expected to grow by about 30% for the year, translating into growth in the loan book in the high 20 per cent range.

The bank adds that it expects to have opened over 80,000 of its new current accounts in 2006.

IL&P says that life sales in Ireland are expected to grow by almost 30% for the full year. Institutional inflows into Irish Life Investment Managers - the group's fund management business - are expected to total about €1.9 billion, up from €1.3 billion in 2005.

'2006 will have seen the group strongly improve its market position and its profitability,' IL&P says in its trading statement.

'This gives up great confidence going into 2007 when we expect the economy and the markets in which we operate to continue to offer tremendous opportunities,' it adds.

Irish Life and Permanent shares closed €1.20 higher at €21 in Dublin this evening - a gain of 6%.