Early reporting US and Bermudian (re)insurers have posted a strong underwriting performance for the first quarter despite a spate of catastrophes across North America which have blighted the results of several outliers.
Of the eight carriers which have reported to date - The Hartford, Axis, Chubb, Markel, Travelers, WR Berkeley, Everest Re and CNA - the average combined ratio comes in at around 92.45 percent, according to data compiled by re-Insurance.com.
The P&C underwriting performance will likely bring some relief to firms - which suffered a torrid end to 2018 amid a spate of heavy catastrophe losses - with the tailwind of President Trump’s tax reforms adding an extra icing on the Q1 cake.
The Hartford was a notable improver on the P&C side, as a 40 percent lift in the segment’s net income to $404mn helped the company to a comfortable beat while the combined ratio slimmed 7.1 points to 92.2 percent, compared to the first three months of last year.
Bermudian carrier Axis similarly surpassed analyst expectations of operating income per share of $1.14 with a result of $1.46 as the company also improved its combined ratio to 90.8 percent.
While the figures were flattered by the group’s acquisition of Lloyd’s syndicate Novae, which contributed to the 39 percent surge in gross written premiums (GWP) to $2.7bn, the insurance division alone reported a 8.9 point drop in its combined ratio to 88.4 percent.
Despite suffering a dent to its earnings from $380mn of cat losses, primarily from storms in the Northeastern US and mudslides in California, Chubb managed to post a 2.6 point improvement in its combined ratio to 90.1 percent, translating into $642mn of P&C underwriting income.
And the firm’s chairman and CEO Evan Greenberg noted improved pricing as a catalyst for its 5.8 percent growth in net written premiums to $6.4bn, as well as favourable FX movements.
“Commercial P&C pricing for the business we wrote in the quarter continued to improve in the US and a number of territories outside the US,” he said.
“We achieved some of the best pricing in quite some time, and it improved as we moved through the quarter. In some classes, customer segments and territories we are observing a clear direction in price firming; in others it’s more chaotic.”
Other companies however didn’t manage to escape the worst of the catastrophes, with US giant Travelers’ shares dropping over 4 percent after it reported worse-than-expected results for Q1 last week.
While the carrier remained profitable with a result of $678mn, albeit below analysts’ expectations, catastrophes cut into the figures. This was despite a boost of more than $150mn from reserve releases which was double the amount released in the same period last year.
Markel was another to suffer the wrath of the period’s higher-than-normal catastrophe losses, delivering a group comprehensive loss to shareholders of $174.8mn, down from a profit of $223.2mn in the prior year period, which co-CEOs Richard Whitt and Thomas Gayner partially pinned on declines in the company’s equity and fixed income portfolios.