Tuesday, September 28, 2004

The insurance industry in a nutshell

From the CEO of St. Paul/Travelers:

"Not only can this company not grow the top line [revenue], but margins are also under pressure," said Chris Winans, an insurance analyst at Lehman Brothers of New York, who has an "underweight" rating on the St. Paul's stock. "It's not a message that investors are likely to take well."

The weak pricing comes at a time when the insurance industry is still tallying losses from the costliest hurricane season on record. Four hurricanes have hit Florida over the past six weeks, costing insurers more than $25 billion. The St. Paul's losses from the storms top $900 million and could wipe away 90 percent of its third-quarter profit, according to Winans of Lehman Brothers.

Fishman said Monday that the storm-related losses now rival those that the insurance industry incurred from the 9/11 terrorist attacks and could cause some insurers to raise rates. "These are big numbers that are starting to add up," he said.

To make matters worse for many insurers, yields on bonds have declined since the Federal Reserve started raising short-term interest rates. That hurts the St. Paul because it allocates about 80 percent of its investment portfolio to bonds. As yields decline, so does the interest income that the company earns on those securities.

"There are times when because of growth opportunities, you can put capital to work thoughtfully and there are times when you can't," Fishman said. "Perhaps [capital is] better sitting with your shareholders than sitting earning 4 percent in your own bond portfolio."

39 Comments:

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