Hartford Financial Services reported fourth quarter net income of $557 million, or $1.19 per share, compared to a loss of $806 million, or $2.71 per share, a year earlier.

For the full year, the Connecticut-based insurance company lost $887 million, compared to a $2.7 billion loss in 2008.

“The Hartford’s fourth quarter results represent a return to profitability,” Liam McGee, the company's chairman and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “Both life and property and casualty businesses reported net income, and this is the third sequential quarter of improving core earnings."

Hartford [HIG] said in a conference call Tuesday that it expects the economy to gradually recover this year. 

Core earnings, which excludes net realized and unrealized investment gains and losses, was $689 million, or $1.51 per share for the quarter, compared to a loss of $208 million a year earlier.

Other highlights of the earnings announcement included: significant capital creation, with property and casualty earnings contributing to a $1.4 billion increase in statutory surplus in 2009; and continued new business written premium growth of 21% in the small-commercial category and 7% in middle market over the prior year.

Hartford said that it expects core earnings per diluted share this year to be between $3.70 and $4. This assumes that the S&P 500 Index will post a 9% return for the year.