The Hartford’s Renewed Focus on Property/Casualty is Paying Off

February 2, 2015 by Sonali Basak

Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., the insurer that sold life units to focus on property-casualty coverage, said fourth-quarter profit rose 22 percent as sales climbed at its main unit and margins improved.

Net income advanced to $382 million, or 86 cents a share, from $314 million, or 65 cents, a year earlier, Hartford, which is based in the Connecticut city of the same name, said in a statement Monday. Operating profit, which excludes some investment items, was 96 cents a share, beating by about 2 cents the average estimate in a Bloomberg survey of 15 analysts.

Hartford’s property casualty combined ratio landed at 92, 2.8 points better than in the 2013 fourth quarter. Net property casualty premiums earned came in at close to $2.6 billion during the quarter, up from just under $2.5 billion in the 2013 fourth quarter. Property/casualty written premiums are booked at $2.47 billion for Q4, compared to nearly $2.35 billion in the 2013 fourth quarter. That’s a 5 percent hike.

The property/casualty division produced $282 million in net investment income in the 2014 fourth quarter, a decline from $324 million over the same period last year.

Hartford has divested life-insurance units and is investing in coverage for homes, cars and businesses. Chief Executive Officer Chris Swift and his predecessor Liam McGee have worked to simplify the company, freeing up funds that they are using to repurchase shares and pay down debt.

“Hartford is still progressing through what is a remarkably positive story,” Vincent DeAugustino, an analyst with Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc., said in an interview prior to the results. “Part of that story is going to be a continuing capital deployment.”

The insurer has slipped 5.1 percent from Dec. 31 through 4:01 p.m. in New York after rallying 15 percent last year and 61 percent in 2013. Results were announced after the close of regular trading.

Swift, who was promoted to CEO in the middle of last year, said in a Jan. 13 interview that he would spend capital to expand P&C operations across the U.S. and improve the company’s technology. Swift took on the additional role of chairman last month, a transition that occurred earlier than the insurer had previously planned.

McGee, who repaid the insurer’s bailout, stepped down as CEO and chairman after a medical procedure related to a brain tumor.

–With assistance from Jing Cao in New York.

*Carrier Management also contributed to this report.