Travelers Misses Estimates on Disaster Losses

July 19, 2012

Travelers Cos Inc reported a second-quarter profit on Thursday but missed Wall Street expectations, as the insurer’s catastrophe losses fell from a year before but were still higher than historical norms.

Travelers, a Dow Jones industrial average component, also said commercial insurance pricing had risen more than 7 percent in the quarter. The company was one of the first in the industry to push and sustain price increases after years of weakness. Prices also rose in personal and professional lines, and retentions were steady.

Last year marked a turning point, as the industry endured one of its worst years ever, driven domestically by record-breaking tornadoes.

This year has been somewhat more mild, and Travelers said after-tax catastrophe losses had fallen to $357 million in the second quarter from $1.09 billion a year earlier. Still, the figure was “considerably higher” than the company would have expected.

Travelers reported a net profit of $499 million, or $1.26 per share, compared with a year-earlier loss of $364 million, or 88 cents per share.

On an operating basis, Travelers earned $1.26 a share. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S had on average expected $1.35.

Because Travelers does not make forecasts, it is customary for the company’s earnings to differ substantially from Wall Street estimates. Over the prior eight quarters, according to Thomson Reuters data, the average difference – either positive or negative – between the company’s actual result and the mean estimate was almost 24 cents.

Travelers reported an underwriting loss for the second quarter as the disaster losses overwhelmed another quarter of reserve releases. Insurance analysts have been closely watching reserves, amid suspicions that companies were close to running out of excess reserves to release.

Despite the low interest rates, net investment income was nearly flat, as other investments offset weakness in the bond portfolio.

Travelers said that given the weak interest-rate environment and what it called “continuing unusual weather patterns,” it would keep pushing for rate increases and tighter terms on insurance policies, a strategy that has cost it some new business in recent quarters.

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