The Bermuda markets major US-listed re/insurers bounced back strongly to reap more than $4 billion of net income in the first quarter of this year.
This represents a dramatic swing from the $2.67 billion net loss the group of 17 companies recorded in 2011, when most were hit by claims from an earthquake in New Zealand and a tsunami in Japan.
For the Bermuda market a relatively quiet first quarter, in terms of catastrophe activity, came as a welcome relief after last years losses, which were not only driven by heavy claims from natural disasters, but also by low interest rates which squeezed investment income.
The change of fortune is also shown by the companies combined ratios, a measure indicating the proportion of premium dollars spent on claims and expenses.
A figure lower than 100 percent indicates underwriting profitability and the average combined ratio for the group in this years first quarter was 89.4 percent, a stark contrast from last years dismal 149.5 percent.
In fact, all except Argo Group managed a sub-100 combined ratio this year.
Last year, only Maiden Holdings, which has little exposure to catastrophe business, came in under 100.
By far the biggest generator of profits was Ace Ltd, which earned nearly $1 billion, compared to a $250 million profit in the same period of 2011. Ace has evolved from its Bermuda roots into a truly global insurer, with its holding company now based in Switzerland.
Some companies produced almost a mirror image of their results from the same period last year.
Everest Re, for example, made a profit of $304.7 million, compared to a loss of $315.9 million last year, while Montpelier Re posted net income of $107.1 million, compared to its 2011 first-quarter loss of $104.3 million.
Only Ace, Alterra, Arch Capital, Allied World and Maiden Holdings managed to make a profit in the first quarter of both years.
Analysts at investment bank Keefe, Bruyette & Woods (KB&W), in a report on 55 property and casualty insurers, including most of the Bermuda group, said they were surprised by the strength of performance in the quarter, but cautioned that the headwinds facing the industry had not changed.
Going forward, we expect that some of the luck of the good weather in the first quarter of 2012 is unlikely to hold and that the pressure of slowing reserve releases and weak investment yields will pressure returns, the report, dated May 20, stated.
However, KB&W added that the story was deeper than the lack of catastrophes and noted that the release of reserves set aside for previous events, a factor which has significantly boosted underwriting results in recent years, shows little sign of drying up in the way many analysts had expected.
Reserve releases were 4.8 percent on average in the quarter, down from 5.3 percent a year ago, but still a surprisingly strong result, KB&W reported.
Naysayers who have warned of rising deficiencies, ourselves included, are being shown wrong.
The report noted that strong results had helped the 55 property and casualty insurers in its universe to achieve an average book value increase of 3.5 percent during the quarter.
Stock buybacks were also a significant factor, with 1.6 percent of shares repurchased during the quarter.
Among the strongest Bermuda market performers on this metric were Montpelier Re, which saw a seven percent increase in book value in the first three months of the year, Allied World (6.7 percent), Everest Re (6.5 percent), RenRe (5.7 percent), PartnerRe (5.7 percent) and Maiden Holdings (5.5 percent).
KB&W said stock performance had appeared to driven largely by earnings per share. Two of the companys three top stock picks for the group are Bermuda companies, Axis Capital and Maiden Holdings.