European insurers are having a rough time. Already carrying the burden of low yields eroding their investment income, disappointing earnings as well as some companies’ exposure to Asia are making things even worse.
The Stoxx Insurance 600 index is down 6.4% in the period, its steepest monthly decline since June 2016, after long-term bond yields fell into negative territory in Germany and suffered a record low in Italy.
“Despite very robust solvency ratios and resilient cash flows, the prospect of prolonged low interest rates will have a negative impact on earnings in the coming years,” wrote Bankhaus Lampe analyst Andreas Schaefer in a note to clients this month. It’s time to become “more cautious on the sector after years of outperformance,” he added.
The overarching yield story aside, there are other reasons for the poor August. Among individual companies, Dutch insurer Aegon NV is down 23% this month after it had to boost provisions by 1.4 billion euros ($1.6 billion) because of a shortfall in its liability-adequacy test driven by credit spread movements.
Meanwhile, the U.K.’s Prudential Plc has fallen 21%, as investors retreat from a company that generates more than half its revenue in Asia, where the trade war and Hong Kong protests are creating uncertainty. Additionally, analysts at AlphaValue said this week that the benefits expected from the demerger of Prudential’s U.K. and European operations appear “not to live up to expectations.” Together, Aegon and Prudential comprise almost 10% of the insurance index.
And of course, there’s Brexit. U.K. companies including Direct Line Insurance Group Plc, Aviva Plc and Legal & General Group Plc are among the worst performers in the sector as the divorce saga continues, hitting U.K. consumer confidence.
Still, not everyone is pessimistic. Insurers “have more leeway to offset low interest income, for example by higher prices,” compared with banks, Pareto Securities analyst Philipp Haessler said by phone. “I don’t expect insurance stocks to show enduring weakness.”