Don’t expect Chubb to pursue an acquisition anytime soon. Chairman and CEO Evan Greenberg repeatedly downplayed the possibility of one in what he referred to as an “overpriced” market.
“The prices paid for recent transactions may make sense to others, but they don’t for us,” Greenberg explained in answer to one question during the carrier’s 2018 first-quarter earnings call on April 25. “Any transaction that we do must advance strategy and what we are doing already while creating a good risk-adjusted return to shareholders. Our track record in the last 14 years in that regard speaks for itself.”
Greenberg added that Chubb has “capital flexibility, but we’re patient and we’ll wait for a different period” to take action.
Today’s Chubb is the product of ACE Ltd.’s massive $29.5 billion acquisition of Chubb in 2015 (concluded in January 2016). Greenberg, as head of ACE, spearheaded that deal and many other smaller acquisitions before that.
Analysts weren’t satisfied with his initial M&A comments, however, and pursued the topic further.
“We are not going to overintellectualize and try to rationalize to ourselves around why it makes sense to pay for an acquisition that is overpriced. That just isn’t going to happen,” Greenberg said in response to one analyst who asked where the “pricey” nature of potential P/C acquisition targets may factor into future Chubb M&A deals.
Another analyst queried whether Chubb is ready for another large acquisition, and Greenberg insisted the insurance giant is. Whether Chubb will pull the trigger and acquire another company in the current market is a different story.
“Chubb is ready [to make an acquisition],” Greenberg said. But “it is hardly my priority to distract the organization from doing what it is doing best—focused on executing and recognizing the potential that resides within all the parts and pieces that we have.”
Greenberg went on to emphasize that Chubb would work well as an organization even if it never makes another acquisition.
“If this organization never does another acquisition…the opportunity in front of our face is simply awesome,” Greenberg said. “It is just patience and time and execution. This organization is 100 percent focused on it. I can see and feel it if I move around, just the momentum building as people are getting after it. It is energizing.”
‘A Bunch of Drunks’
An increasingly direct Greenberg also had plenty to say about Lloyd’s when asked about how Chubb is approaching its interaction with the London market after a challenging 2017 and high levels of natural catastrophes.
Greenberg said that Chubb’s “rational underwriting” and its “ability to trap the business locally and not have to wait for it to come to London” has allowed the insurer to shrink its presence in the London market in recent years.
“You can’t earn an adequate return” there, Greenberg said. “You know, to a large degree, a lot of the underwriters in London and at Lloyd’s, it’s like a barroom with a bunch of drunks who want to reform, and they just can’t put the glass down and push away from the bar.”
Greenberg continued: “It’s when you hear all the talk and all the chatter. It’s in their hands to get out of their own way and do the most fundamental [and] underwrite the business to an adequate, risk-adjusted return and deploy that capital on that basis.”
But Greenberg expressed frustration about “the notion that you have investors that we can all opine about, that will trade 3 percent money for a 6 percent return, or thereabouts.”
“That is a lousy, risk-adjusted return,” he said, “and ultimately, it is not a long-term investment thesis, period.”