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Strong dollar impacts Ace’s results

Ace CEO Evan Greenberg

Global insurer Ace Ltd last night reported record full-year operating earnings of $3.3 billion.

But the strength of the US dollar had a negative impact on the growth of premium revenues and book value per share, chief executive officer Evan Greenberg said.

Operating income for the fourth quarter for the Switzerland-based company which began operations in Bermuda in the mid-1980s was $3.32 billion, or $9.79 per share, up 4.7 per cent from a year earlier. For the fourth quarter, operating earnings toalled $2.47 per share, up 3.3 per cent on 2013, and exceeding the $2.29 per share consensus estimate of analysts polled by Yahho Finance.

Operating return on equity for the year was 12 per cent, while the property and casualty combined ratio for 2014 — reflecting the proportion of premium dollars spent on claims and expenses — was 87.7 per cent.

Mr Greenberg described the underwriting results as “excellent” and also pointed out that net investment income was a record $577 million in the quarter and $2.3 billion for the year, up more than five per cent.

He spelled out how the strong US dollar had impacted the group’s results.

“For the quarter and year, global P&C net premiums written grew about six per cent and seven per cent, respectively, on a constant-dollar basis with the strong dollar negatively impacting growth by about 2.8 percentage points in the quarter and 1.2 percentage points for the year,” Mr Greenberg said.

“Per share book value declined modestly in the quarter and grew 6.1 per cent for the year with foreign exchange negatively impacting book value by $596 million in the quarter and $747 million for the year. Excluding foreign currency movement, book value per share grew 8.8 per cent for the year.

“There has been a rapid investor flight to the dollar in search of safety, driven by the decline in oil prices, economic uncertainty in many countries and regions, and geopolitical tensions. Ace is a truly global multinational insurer, and we are dollar-based.

“Our diversified presence, product and customer capabilities, and distribution focus in 54 countries are a unique source of earnings strength that enables us to take advantage of so many opportunities around the globe over time.”