Liam McGee  CEO, The Hartford
Liam McGee
CEO, The Hartford

A day after Hartford Financial Services Group announced vastly improved financials and plans to unload its Japan operations, Chairman, President and CEO Liam McGee was positively bullish during the Connecticut company’s 2014 first quarter conference call about progress made so far.

“I am very proud of the substantial progress we have made in transforming The Hartford,” McGee said during the April 29 investor call. “Outstanding first-quarter results further demonstrate that divisions are growing and also experiencing top-line growth.”

Among Hartford’s many gains: 2014 first quarter net income hit $495 million ($1.03 per diluted share), versus a $241 million net loss in the 2013 first quarter $0.58 per diluted share). The company’s core earnings grew, its combined ratio excluding catastrophes and prior-year development improved, and gains came through across the board in property/casualty, group benefits and standard commercial.

McGee’s effusive comments came a day after the company announced it had agreed to sell its Japanese operation to Orix Corp. for about $895 million, a division that sold retirement products in Japan until 2009. The move was Hartford’s latest step toward narrowing its focus to property/casualty-related business lines.

According to McGee, the Orix sale, set to close in July, will “accelerate the return of capital from Japan” and also speed up “the transformation of The Hartford” by putting more focus on the company’s efforts to grow its P/C, group benefits and mutual funds divisions. “We’re growing, returning capital to shareholders and paying down debt,” McGee said during the call. “Across the company, [we are] driving improvements in efficiency and operating expenses.” Among Hartford’s earnings highlights:

  • The company’s property/casualty arm booked nearly $2.6 billion in written premiums, up from $2.5 million in the first three months of 2013, a 3 percent increase. The combined ratio reached 89.8 versus 93.6 over the same period last year. Minus catastrophes and prior-year development, those numbers came in at 87.9 and 91.8, respectively. For the division, catastrophe losses jumped to $86 million before tax, from $32 million in the 2013 first quarter.
  • P/C commercial reported approximately $1.7 billion in written premiums, up 1 percent from the previous year, and a combined ratio of 91.2, versus 94 in first-quarter 2013. Without catastrophes and prior year development, those numbers hit 87.7 in the 2014 first quarter, compared to 93.1 year-over-year. Hartford said it enjoyed rate increases and higher retention in the small commercial and middle markets, and stronger new business in the middle market. As well, standard commercial (small commercial and middle market) price increases came in at 7 percent.
  • For consumer markets, Hartford said it produced $927 million in written premiums during the 2014 first quarter 6 percent higher than the $878 million generated in the 2013 first quarter. The combined ratio in this sector reached 86.5, an improvement over 92 in the same period last year. Without catastrophes and prior year development, the combined ratio would have come in at 87.4 during the quarter, versus 88.6 in the 2013 first quarter.

In addition to these results, Hartford said earnings for its group benefits arm rose 50 percent to $45 million over last year and the loss ratios for the division improved.

Its mutual funds arm also did well, with assets under management hitting $73.3 billion as of March 31, 2014, up 11 percent from $65.8 million in the 2013 first quarter. Net flows reached $18 million, the first positive quarter since first-quarter 2011, when net outflows reached $498 million.

Mutual funds sales dropped 10 percent during the 2014 first quarter compared to last year, however, reaching $3.7 billion, versus $4.1 billion in the 2013 first quarter.