Ace Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Evan Greenberg said there are signs the insurance industry is entering another era of taking on too much risk as competition pressures companies to lower prices to win business.

“It’s not back to the late ’90s that way, but we are seeing more of the things that cause us to shake our heads,” Greenberg said in a call Wednesday. “People have been really hungry, but we’re not seeing the stupidity that we’ve seen in the past — not yet.”

Property-and-casualty policy sales fell 2.9 percent in the first quarter, Zurich-based Ace said in a statement after markets closed Tuesday, driven partly by currency fluctuations and declines in the agriculture business. Travelers Cos., the sole P&C insurer in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, said earlier Tuesday that policy sales climbed less than one percent as the pace slowed for rate increases to commercial clients.

Ace declined 1.1 percent to $107.82 at 10:31 a.m. in New York trading. Travelers slumped 0.7 percent to $101.03 after falling 4 percent Tuesday. They are among the largest financial companies to remain profitable through the credit crisis.

Greenberg and Travelers CEO Jay Fishman have said they’re prepared to walk away from business that doesn’t meet profitability targets. Fishman said Tuesday on a call with investors that he would “draw lines in the sand” to prevent underwriting policies at dangerous prices.

Rates for property-catastrophe coverage fell 11 percent for policies that renewed on Jan. 1, a major date for arranging the coverage, according to Guy Carpenter, a division of Marsh & McLennan Cos. Pensions and hedge funds have been making more weather-related bets as they seek risks that aren’t tied to stock and bond markets.

Pulling Handles

The competition has pushed traditional insurers to diversify across products and regions to find areas with better margins. Greenberg on Wednesday highlighted policies that guard clients against cyber risks, and Ace has expanded in nations including Brazil and Mexico through acquisitions.

“We have a lot of handles to pull and we’re pulling all that we can that help to ameliorate the impact of pricing,” Greenberg said on the call. “We are quite diversified by product area. A lot of our business is not commercial P&C, and our commercial P&C is spread very well across the globe and spread around a lot of products.”

Here are details from ACE’s 2015 first quarter results:

  • Net income came in at $681 million, or $2.05 per share, versus $734 million, or $2.14 per share in the 2014 first quarter.
  • In ACE’s property/casualty division, net premiums written were more than $3.85 billion, versus $3.69 billion in the 2014 first quarter. The combined ratio hit 88.4, versus 88.8 over the same period last year.
  • For global P/C, excluding agriculture, ACE’s net premiums written were flat, coming in at just under $3.5 billion. The combined ratio ticked up to 89.5, compared to 87.6 a year ago.
  • ACE said its agriculture division produced $88 million in net premiums written, compared to $194 million in the 2014 first quarter. The combined ratio is 26.4 for Q1, versus 130.3 in the 2014 first quarter.
  • P/C net premiums earned and global P/C net premiums earned jumped 3.5 percent and 4.8 percent, respectively, in constant dollars.
  • ACE produced $551 million in net investment income during the quarter, compared to $553 million last year.

*Carrier Management added details from ACE’s Q1 results to the bottom of this story

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