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Big 20's profits tumble 10%

The major re/insurers of the Bermuda market saw their net earnings fall by more than 10 percent last year, as catastrophe losses and lower investment returns ate into profitability.

A survey of the results of 20 leading companies all of whom have a meaningful presence in the Bermuda market even if some of them are not domiciled on the Island any more showed that combined net income was more than $11.7 billion.

That figure was down from the $13.05 billion earned in 2009, when a lack of catastrophes combined with rebounding financial markets helped many companies enjoy a record year.

Despite the billions of dollars paid out in claims following events like the earthquakes in Chile and New Zealand, windstorm Xynthia in Europe, the loss of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, flooding in Australia and severe winter weather in the north-eastern US, none of the 20 companies made a net loss for the year.

As a whole, business growth was flat among the group with gross premiums written adding up to $64.8 billion, compared to $64.1 billion in 2009.

The 20 managed to increase shareholders' equity by 5.7 percent. But there was a much more pronounced increase in basic book value per share, which rose by an average 14.2 percent, driven by companies putting surplus capital to work by buying back their own shares, at a time they were trading on the stock market well below book value.

The biggest contributor to the group in terms of profit, premiums and shareholders' equity was Ace Ltd, the Bermuda-born and raised company that celebrated its 25th anniversary last year and which is now based in Switzerland.

Ace's net earnings totalled $3.11 billion, up 22 percent year on year and more than a quarter of the combined earnings of the group and more than a quarter of the premiums written.

XL Group achieved the biggest rise in profits. The company's net income of $643.4 million last year was more than eight and a half times the $75 million it made the year before. The result is a further indication that XL has stabilised under the stewardship of CEO Mike McGavick following the upheavals of 2008 and early 2009, and the de-risking of its investment portfolio.

The class of 2001 re/insurer Axis Capital, led by CEO John Charman and chairman Michael Butt, was the second biggest earner, posting full-year net income of $856.7 million, an increase of 72 percent over 2009. Axis just pipped PartnerRe, whose earnings of $852.5 million in CEO Patrick Thiele's tenth and final year as CEO, represented a 44.5 percent fall from 2009, as catastrophe claims bit deep.

Arch Capital Group racked up $842.6 million in net income in another solid year for the company led by Dinos Iordanou, chairman of the Association of Bermuda Insurers and Reinsurers.

White Mountains Group suffered the biggest fall in profits, of more than 81 percent, while three others who paid out heavily on catastrophe losses Flagstone, Montpelier Re and Validus recorded a decline of more than 50 percent in net income. Even though more than half the group saw their profits fall, most shareholders had reason to be happy, as there were some steep rises in book value for a second successive year.

In fact, six of the 20 achieved an increase of more than 20 percent. Endurance Specialty Holdings was the top performer in this respect, as the company led by Bermudian CEO David Cash managed an increase of more than 28 percent.

Allied World Assurance Company recorded a 25 percent increase in book value per share, even as its shareholders' equity went down by 4.3 percent.

The company was one of several to boslter book value per share by buying back shares and warrants from founding shareholders, as well as on the stock market.

Ace was the biggest writer of non-life gross premiums with $17.9 billion, with XL in a distant second with $6.3 billion.

The only others to top the $4 billion mark were PartnerRe ($4.9 billion), Everest Re ($4.2 billion) and Catlin Group ($4 billion).

Alterra Capital Group, the company formed out of the merger between Max Capital Group and Harbor Point Re, saw the biggest the biggest rise in shareholders' equity as a result of the amalgamation.

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Published March 01, 2011 at 1:00 am (Updated March 01, 2011 at 9:06 am)

Big 20's profits tumble 10%

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