The nation's largest life insurer, MetLife Inc., reported stronger operating earnings for the first quarter compared with last year as the company cut expenses, improved investment income and saw growth in new markets abroad.

MetLife's net income for the quarter was $956 million, or 87 cents per share, compared with a net loss of $174 million, or 16 cents per share, during the same period last year.

Operating income was $1.63 billion, or $1.48 per share, up from $1.46 billion, or $1.37 per share, during the same period a year ago. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected $1.30 per share, on average.

Net Investment income was $5.13 billion, up 1 percent from $5.08 billion. MetLife's investment portfolio had net gains of $161 million after tax compared with net losses of $145 million last year.

Revenue from premiums was up slightly to $9.15 billion for the quarter, compared with $9.11 billion during the same period last year.

Revenue from universal-life and investment-type product policy fees was up to $2.21 billion for the quarter, up from $2 billion in 2012.

"MetLife had a very strong first quarter as all three of our business regions contributed to a 12 percent increase in operating earnings over the first quarter of 2012, and we generated an annualized operating return on equity of 12.7 percent," MetLife Chairman and CEO Steven A. Kandarian said in a prepared statement.

MetLife accounts for its global business in continental summaries. In the Americas, operating earnings were up 12 percent to $1.3 billion and revenue was up 4 percent to $8.6 billion.

In Asia, operating earnings were up 11 percent to $333 million and revenue was up 2 percent to $2.5 billion for the region. MetLife had growth in Korea and Australia. The company noted volatility in Japan offset sales gains elsewhere, such as India.

MetLife consolidates its businesses in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, which on the whole had stronger results from emerging markets, such as Russia and Turkey. Total earnings were $87 million, up 21 percent, and revenue was $685 million, down 11 percent due to MetLife's exit from businesses in the United Kingdom.

The company reported earnings after equity markets closed Monday. Shares of MetLife were up 1 cent at $38.41 in after-hours trading.