CNA FINANCIAL CORPORATION LOGOThe biggest hit to CNA’s 2014 first-quarter net income comes from short-term costs relating to the planned sale of its Continental Assurance Co. life and group insurance business to Wilton Re Holdings Ltd.

But the Chicago insurer also experienced a very tough winter, and its sluggish overall results reflect that reality, Chairman and CEO Thomas Motamed explained to investors during the company’s April 28 earnings call.

Motamed said that weather catastrophe and non-catastrophe realities took a bite out of net income and hurt overall performance but particularly harmed CNA’s commercial segment. Adding to the stresses, CNA has noticed hot competition for renewals over the last six months, he said, with companies becoming much more protective of their renewal books, leaving fewer new opportunities for rivals such as CNA seeking to grow and diversify their own books of business.

CNA reported just $13 million in net income during its 2014 first quarter (5 cents per diluted share) versus $250 million over the same period last year (93 cents per diluted share). CNA said it took a hit in the first quarter, in part due to lower net investment income, higher catastrophe losses and lower favorable net prior-year development.

But the biggest impact comes from CNA’s after-tax impairment loss of $214 million, connected to the planned sale of its Continental Assurance Co. business to a subsidiary of Wilton RE Holdings Ltd., something that will give it net proceeds of about $615 million (in the form of a dividend) after the sale closes, likely in the 2014 second quarter.

Here are other CNA earnings highlights:

  • The company’s property/casualty operations produced a combined ratio of 101.6 during the quarter compared to 101.5 in the 2013 first quarter. Excluding catastrophes and development, those numbers would be 97.2 and 101, respectively.
  • Net written premiums were more than $1.7 billion for the first quarter, about flat year-over-year.
  • CNA’s specialty division generated $796 million in net written premiums during the quarter, down from $803 million a year ago. The division’s combined ratio hit 94.4, a slight improvement over a combined ratio of 95 a year ago. Without catastrophes and development, CNA would have pulled in a 93.9 combined ratio for the 2014 first quarter compared to 97.7 in Q1 2013.
  • CNA’s commercial arm took a hit, with net written premiums dipping to $899 million during the first quarter compared to $918 million in the fiscal 2013 first quarter. CNA’s combined ratio for this line of business soared to 109.8 versus 106.8 in the first three months of 2013. Without catastrophes and development in the picture, those numbers would be 101.2 and 103.7, respectively.
  • CNA’s Hardy arm grew nicely, reaching $72 million in net written premiums compared to $55 million in the 2013 first quarter. The division produced a combined ratio of 87.1 versus 105.5 in the 2013 first quarter. Without catastrophe and development added costs, that would be 88.6 and 104.1, respectively, for the 2014 and 2013 first quarters. CNA said that reduced reinsurance costs and modest organic business growth, plus increased retention, led to the gains.