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Charman sees ongoing ‘cycle change’ as Axis posts $122m profit

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Axis Capital Holdings Ltd last night reported a $122 million profit for the first quarter of this year as CEO John Charman noted a “cycle change” was under way, bringing firmer pricing for many lines of business.

The net income, which broke down to 96 cents per share, compared to a net loss of $384 million, or $3.39 per share, in the same period of 2011 when results were hit hard by earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan.

Operating earnings per share were $1.07, just missing the $1.09 estimate of analysts polled by Bloomberg.

Underwriting operations were profitable with a combined ratio of 94.8 percent, indicating the proportion of premium dollars spent on claims and expenses. This figure was bolstered by net favourable prior year reserve development of $45 million, pre-tax, which benefited the combined ratio by 5.4 points.

Mr Charman has observed a trend of gradually improving pricing, a trend that continued in the first three months of the year.

“The exit from the bottom of the property and casualty pricing cycle maintained its steady progress,” Mr Charman said.

“Pricing continued to firm through the quarter and into April renewals, particularly in catastrophe exposed classes. For lines of business where our global franchise maintains a meaningful participation, this ‘cycle change’ trend of pricing improvement is now visible in almost every geography and every product line.

“However, these rate changes are gradual and are not yet sufficient to warrant a dramatic upscaling in our underwriting activity. Recognising this transitional period for the industry, we remain judicious with our capacity and are totally focused on either preserving or expanding underwriting margin in order to drive value for our shareholders.

“We are very confident that our major global businesses are well positioned and ready to gain meaningfully when the supply of our capital is more appropriately compensated.”

Mr Charman described underwriting results as “good” and said that operating return on average capital employed (ROACE) was 11 percent.

The company wrote slightly less business, recording gross premiums written of $1.5 billion, representing a two percent fall from the same period a year earlier. There was a clear shift in emphasis from the reinsurance segement which experienced an 11 percent fall in gross premiums to the insurance business which recorded a 23 percent increase.

Net investment income was $116 million, an increase of five percent from a year earlier and 13 percent from the fourth quarter of 2011. Total return on cash and investments was 2.1 percent, pre-tax, compared to 0.9 percent for the same period last year.

Axis ended the quarter with diluted book value per share of $39.53, an increase of four percent during the quarter and 11 percent from a year earlier.

During the quarter, the company repurchased 1.5 million common shares at an average price of $32.41 per share, for a total cost of $48 million.

Axis CEO John Charman
Axis Capital CEO John Charman

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Published April 27, 2012 at 9:18 am (Updated April 27, 2012 at 9:17 am)

Charman sees ongoing ‘cycle change’ as Axis posts $122m profit

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