With the property/casualty reinsurance market hammered by soft rates and heavy competition from new sources of capital, W.R. Berkley Corp.’s Chairman and CEO questioned the “moral commitment” of some of the players involved.
“The moral commitment of the participants in this business is a really important factor,” W.R. Berkley offered bluntly during the company’s 2014 third-quarter earnings call on Oct. 24. “And many of the people who are now playing in that … game don’t have a substantial moral commitment to our industry.”
W.R. Berkley Corp.’s domestic insurance division is by far the largest segment of the company, and it led what was a successful and even robust 2014 third quarter. But its global reinsurance division saw diminished results in Q3, reflecting the struggles reinsurers continue to face in much of the world as they continue to confront heavy competition and new capital sources from a variety of higher-risk players.
During Berkley’s earnings conference call, analysts were concerned about the company’s reinsurance performance, and they wanted to hear the thoughts of
Berkley, and his son, Chief Operating Officer W. Robert Berkley, Jr., on what lies ahead and how their company is navigating the turbulent market conditions.
Robert Berkley expressed both a fairly candid assessment and optimism.
“It’s better at the moment to be a buyer than a seller,” he said, noting that the “promise of alternative capital” that has hammered the market remains unclear in the long-term.
“Parts of the property/casualty reinsurance market are more competitive,” he acknowledged to investors. “But much of the alternative capital has not found a way to effectively penetrate the market.”
“Our expectation is that the reinsurance market, particularly the traditional one, is not going to go away over night,” the younger Berkley continued. “This is a challenging moment [but] there remain opportunities to participate in the reinsurance market that are reasonably attractive.”
W.R. Berkley, beyond challenging the moral commitment of some of the new reinsurance players, was more philosophical in his response.
“This is an ever-so alluring business, appearing so predictable, but proving to be particularly unpredictable when the unforeseen event arises,” the elder Berkley said. “Many companies after [Hurricane Katrina] and several other events would have proven to be insolvent, if in fact, anyone said they had to pay their claims now. They went out and raised capital very quickly on financial statements that were, at best, questionable.”
He continued to point out that “it is a very quick period of time when these companies can be tested. Their capital accounts can be gone, and not only will they be tested, but the people who purchased reinsurance from some of them will be tested.”
Reinsurance concerns aside, however, W.R. Berkley performed really well during Q3. The insurer and reinsurer reported more than $188.5 million in net income ($1.42 per diluted share) during the quarter, versus $136.97 million ($0.97 per diluted share) over the same period in 2013. Gross written premiums reached nearly $1.78 billion, versus almost $1.67 billion a year ago. Net premiums written came in at $1.5 billion, up from $1.4 billion in the 2013 third quarter.
More good news: the consolidated combined ratio came in at 93.5, better than the 93.9 number produced over the same period in 2013. As well, net premiums written grew 7.1 percent, net investment gains scored at $72 million, and Berkley (the company) celebrated a 17.4 percent return on equity.
“We think it demonstrates our earnings capacity and that in looking ahead, while there are bumps in the road, we are quite optimistic we will be able to deliver outstanding returns,” W.R. Berkley (the chairman and CEO) said during the call.
Here is a breakdown of W.R. Berkley’s results, by segment:
- The company’s domestic insurance arm produced nearly $1.4 billion in gross premiums written, versus $1.25 billion in the 2013 third quarter. Net premiums written hit close to $1.2 billion, compared to $1 billion over the same period last year. Premiums earned surpassed $1 billion, over nearly $959 million in the 2013 third quarter. The division’s combined ratio came in at 90.9, improved compared to 92.5 in the 2013 third quarter.
- International insurance produced $205.3 million in gross premiums written during Q3, a big increase compared to $193.56 million in the 2013 third quarter. Net premiums written landed at $171.6 million, versus $166 million last year. Premiums earned came in at $205.5 million, improved over $189 million in the 2013 third quarter. Berkley’s international insurance combined ratio bumped up to 103.4, however (due to higher catastrophe losses), compared to 97.4 over the same period a year ago.
- Global reinsurance was the sole trouble spot for Berkley, as has been the case through the year. Gross premiums written came in at $180.9 million, but that’s down from $218.68 million over the same period in 2013. Net premiums written similarly dropped, landing at $171.2 million, versus $203 million in the 2013 third quarter. Premiums earned for the quarter hit $161.7 million, but that’s down from $180.8 million in the 2013 third quarter. At 98.7, reinsurance produced a relatively good combined ratio, but that’s an uptick from 97.5 a year ago.