W.R. Berkley Corp.’s outspoken chairman and CEO slammed the surge of M&A activity hitting the property/casualty industry in recent months as something driven more by “management ego” than true business needs.
“Consolidation that is happening now is frequently about management ego or management rewards and less than it is about what you need to run your business,” William R. Berkley said during the company’s July 27 2015 second-quarter earnings call.
Berkley said there are exceptions to the rule, especially when the mergers or acquisitions involve global companies.
“To be a global company of scale is certainly of value, but that is a small part of dollars in the marketplace,” Berkley said. “There are a few companies that need to be global to serve customers. Our global ambitions have to do with serving great customers wherever they are located.”
Berkley’s son, Berkley President and Chief Operating Officer W. Robert Berkley, Jr., said the consolidation going on in the marketplace right now creates opportunity for W.R. Berkley and other carriers like it “on multiple levels.”
He said that carriers involved in the mergers end up being distracted, ending up with challenges in focusing on their distribution system. Large mergers also leave uncertainty about how much distribution channels the combined company wants to handle, Robert Berkley added. He also noted that cuistomers with companies pursuing mergers can end up “disenchanted with their future and looking for an alternative.”
As for W.R. Berkley Corp. becoming a buyer or seller in the current wave of M&A activity, William R. Berkley said the company remains big enough to deal with today’s regulatory pressures. At the same time, he said he is not ruling out anything if shareholders want it.
“If it is good for our shareholders it is good for us,” the elder Berkley said during the call. “In the meantime, we are big enough that we think there is not much we cannot do.”
Breaking down the 2015 second quarter numbers, W.R. Berkley Corp. saw real gains in premiums written. But declines in investment income led to a drop in net income.
William R. Berkley said that the insurer held its own even as competition and investment challenges continued to increase.
“It was an interesting quarter, exciting in many ways, and challenging in many ways,” Berkley said. He added in prepared remarks that Berkley continues to target a return of 15 percent or better over the long-term.
Net income during the 2015 second quarter landed at $123 million, or $0.95 per diluted share. That’s down from more than $179.9 million, or $1.35 per diluted share over the same period in 2014. Investment income came in at $127.58 million during the quarter, versus $138.7 million in the 2014 second quarter. Net investment gains are down drastically, at more than $27.5 million, compared to $109.16 million last year.
Consolidated gross written premiums are booked at $1.8 billion in Q2, up from $1.77 billion in the 2014 second quarter. Net written premiums are at $1.54 billion for Q2, an increase over nearly $1.49 billion in the same-year-ago period. Net premiums earned are at $1.49 billion, compared to $1.4 billion in the 2014 second quarter.
Berkley’s combined ratio for the quarter was 94.2, essentially flat over the same period in 2014. Its return on equity was 10.7 percent, however, down from 16.6 percent last year. During the conference call, Berkley said he expects the company can keep its return on equity at the mid-teens in the long run.
Broken down, Berkley experienced big gains in its domestic insurance business, though execs during the company’s investor call on July 27 said commercial auto, aviation and marine remain challenging.
At the same time, Berkley experienced declines in both its international insurance and global reinsurance arms. Berkley’s international insurance combined ratio hit 101.1 during Q2, compared to 99.5 over the same period last year.
During Q2, Berkley bought back 2.6 million shares of common stock, for $127 million.
Related Story: William Berkley is giving up his CEO slot to his son, W. Robert Berkley Jr., on Oct. 31.