Greenberg sees insurance prices firming
Insurance prices are increasing at an accelerating rate, according to Evan Greenberg.
The chief executive officer of Chubb Corp expressed his thoughts on a firming market after the group beat Wall Street estimates with third-quarter net income of $1.09 billion, down 11.4 per cent from the corresponding quarter last year.
Core operating earnings were $2.70 per share, exceeding the $2.64 per share average estimate of eight analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research.
The Swiss-based re/insurer with an underwriting operation in Bermuda posted revenue of $9.26 billion in the period, also beating forecasts. Four analysts surveyed by Zacks expected $8.54 billion.
In a conference call with analysts, Mr Greenberg said: “The pricing environment continued to improve quarter-on-quarter with the rate of increase accelerating and spreading to more classes of business and risk type.
“For perspective, rate increases in both our North America commercial lines and on our London wholesale businesses this quarter were double those of the first quarter, 6.4 per cent versus 3.2 per cent and 17 per cent versus 8 per cent, respectively.”
He added that in the US, rates continued to firm in major accounts, excess and surplus wholesale specialty and the middle market. Conditions were also firming in the London wholesale market and in Australia, while rates began to increase in the UK retail market and parts of the continent, particularly for large risks.
“The market is responding to the fact that rates have not kept pace with loss costs over a number of years, which has put pressure on margins and ultimately on reserves,” Mr Greenberg said.
“Rates have gone down while loss costs have risen. Pretty simple math. However, as we have been saying for some time, the frequency of severity and certain long-tail and short-tail classes has been worsening, while at the same time in other classes, it has remained subdued or declined.”
He added: “In my judgment, given the simple math, the risk environment and a reset of risk appetite on the part of many, the current market conditions are sustainable.”
Chubb had benefited from a “flight to quality”, the CEO said.
Discussing the investment side of the business, Mr Greenberg said prices of many assets, including insurance companies were “tremendously inflated”.
He added: “I’m really making the comment that investors are chasing absolute yield, not risk-adjusted yield.
When I come to our own investment portfolio, we’re very careful about how we invest for risk-adjusted return, not absolute yield ... We know what we think the right risk-adjusted price is from looking at historic default trends, et cetera. We’re not going to chase.”
Chubb’s property and casualty combined ratio was 90.2 per cent, compared to 90.9 per cent prior year, reflecting lower catastrophe losses and higher crop insurance losses.
Pre-tax catastrophe losses were $232 million, compared to $450 million last year. Agricultural underwriting income was impacted by weather conditions, falling to $1 million from $79 million in the third quarter of last year.
Chubb said net investment income was $873 million pre-tax, up 6 per cent.
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