Evan Greenberg
Evan Greenberg

Earlier this week, ACE Ltd., working with a local partner, finished its acquisition of a 60.9 percent stake in a general insurance company in Thailand. Chairman and CEO Evan Greenberg said Wednesday during the company’s first-quarter earnings call that executives will proceed with plans to purchase the rest of the operation that they don’t already own.

The acquisition of The Siam Commercial Samaggi Insurance PCL from Siam Commercial Bank gives ACE access to the firm’s auto, small commercial and personal accident insurance, among other business lines. Greenberg reiterated Wednesday that the M&A transaction fits in with ACE’s overall master plan.

“We completed the acquisition of a majority stake in Samaggi, [which] enhances our overall presence in Southeast Asia,” Greenberg said during the call. “We will launch an offer for the balance of Samaggi in the second quarter.”

ACE first announced the M&A deal in January. Plans to buy the remaining 39.1 percent of Siam Commercial Samaggi Insurance are part of a “mandatory tender offer” in compliance with Thai regulations, ACE said. The total deal value comes in at $190 million.

Greenberg spoke about the Samaggi deal in the context of generally positive first-quarter results.

“ACE had a very good start to the year,” Greenberg said, adding that “from what we can see, I expect a good year” to come.

Still, ACE’s net income reached $734 million, or $2.14 per diluted share, during the 2014 first quarter, down substantially from $953 million, or $2.77 per diluted share, during the same period a year ago, driven, in part, by higher catastrophe losses and reinstatement premiums.

But ACE’s business lines scored in a number of areas with growth and underwriting increases driven by strong underwriting and investment income, Greenberg said. In North America, overall pricing was up for casualty-related lines but down on the property side, though total P/C net premiums grew by double-digits.

“The margin improvement in North America was the result of better pricing and mix of business,” Greenberg said, adding that a better pricing and product mix also produced better international numbers.

P/C clocked in with nearly $3.7 billion in net premiums written, 12 percent higher than the nearly $3.3 billion in net premiums during the 2013 first quarter. The combined ratio came in at 88.8 in the first quarter for 2014, barely changed from 88.2 last year. Underwriting income hit $390 million compared to $364 million in the 2013 first quarter.

Global P/C numbers (excluding agriculture) similarly performed well. Net premiums written nearly hit $3.5 billion in the 2014 first quarter, up 9.9 percent from close to $3.2 billion over the same period in 2013. The combined ratio reached 87.6, an improvement over 88.4 generated in the 2013 first quarter. Underwriting income for the 2014 first quarter climbed to $421 million, up more than 19 percent from $353 million year-over-year.

ACE experienced mixed results with its agriculture arm. Net premiums written hit the $194 million mark, up 72.1 percent from $113 million in the 2013 first quarter. But the division generated a $31 million underwriting loss during the 2014 first quarter compared to $11 million in underwriting income a year ago. The combined ratio reached 130.3, up from 79.3 in the 2013 first quarter. ACE said that the results for North American agriculture stem from premium-sharing formulas with the U.S. government relating to a loss adjustment for the 2013 crop year as well as changes to its third-party proportional insurance.

Other earnings highlights:

  • Global reinsurance net written premiums jumped 10.3 percent for the quarter, and the division produced a combined ratio of 72.9, versus 67.3 last year. Greenberg said that reinsurance is a small but important part of the business (3-4 percent of the company’s total) and is “where the market is most competitive.”
  • Net investment income jumped to $553 million during the quarter, up 4.1 percent.
  • ACE completed $332 million in company share repurchases during the quarter (3.5 million shares). Since the program began in November 2013, ACE has bought back 4.5 million of its shares for $436 million as of April 28, 2014.