Ratings Recap: Continental, Nat’l. Guaranty, Westminster, Triangle, Ellington Mutual

August 22, 2014

A.M. Best has upgraded the financial strength rating to ‘A’ (Excellent) from ‘A-‘ (Excellent) and the issuer credit rating to “a” from “a-”of Chicago-based Continental Assurance Company (CAC), and has removed the ratings from under review with developing implications and assigned a stable outlook. “The removal of the under review status reflects the completion of Wilton Reassurance Company’s acquisition of CAC from CNA Financial Corporation,” Best explained. Bermuda-based Wilton Re Holdings Limited is the ultimate parent of Wilton Reassurance Company.” Best also noted that “during the first quarter of 2014, the ratings of CAC were placed under review with developing implications, following the announced intent by Wilton Re to acquire the company. On Aug. 1, 2014, Wilton Re closed the acquisition.” Best said the rating upgrades “reflect the financial strength and ability of Wilton Re to support CAC, if necessary. The transaction adds further scale to Wilton Re’s liability profile and also contributes to the company’s focus on managing run-off blocks of business. In addition, the acquisition is in line with Wilton Re’s core administrative reinsurance capabilities.” In conclusion Best said: “Factors that may lead to positive rating actions include continued successful execution and integration of Wilton Re’s profitable mortality reinsurance deals, which would enhance the scale and business profile of the new parent while maintaining solid risk-adjusted capitalization levels. Factors that may lead to negative rating actions include a material decline in CAC’s capital, weakening of profitability or a change in its strategic importance to Wilton Re.”

A.M. Best has affirmed the financial strength rating of ‘A-‘ (Excellent) and the issuer credit rating of “a-” of Vermont-based captive insurer National Guaranty Insurance Company of Vermont (NGIC), both with stable outlooks. Best said the “ratings of NGIC reflect its excellent risk-adjusted capitalization, operating performance and liquidity positions, as well as its sophisticated risk management strategy and practices, conservative investment strategy, its management team’s extended experience in the industry and its parent’s, Waste Management, Inc. (WM), operational controls.” As a partial offsetting factor Best noted that a “large percentage of NGIC’s surplus is loaned back to WM, which is supported by a 24-hour demand note. However, capital levels at NGIC are monitored by the state, and the company must maintain a certain aggregate exposure to capital ratio as prescribed by the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation.” Best also explained that “NGIC was incorporated on April 29, 1989, is licensed in Florida and operates as a surplus lines carrier in several other states. In total, NGIC is currently providing financial assurance coverage in 18 states and issuing surety bonds in 24. As a pure captive established to meet the financial assurance obligations of WM, under Subtitle D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, NGIC’s financial strength is closely tied to the financial position of WM. The coverages written apply to landfills owned and/or operated by subsidiaries of WM (WM-owned landfills), and assure that as of the date of closure, there will be sufficient funds to pay for proper closure and post-closure activities, such as ‘capping’ and monitoring of the site. The reserves for these coverages are maintained on the parent’s balance sheet. WM’s ability to adhere to its strict operating guidelines, including reserve adequacy, ensures that NGIC has minimal exposure to losses.” Best’s report also indicated that it “views the management and corporate strategy as strengthening to the ratings, given NGIC’s conservative underwriting, operational goals and transparency” The report also described “NGIC’s enterprise risk management practices as strong given the impact on the conservative risk culture, defined risk controls and its capital and surplus.” Best also said it considered other factors in the ratings, including, but are not limited to,” the geographical diversification, as well as the support and commitment of WM to NGIC as well as NGIC’s mission.” Best said it “expects NGIC’s future operating performance to be stable, and a strong and stable earnings profile should provide further support to control its growth and business writings, which are consistent with its capital and surplus position.” In conclusion the report indicated that “NGIC’s ratings are not expected to be upgraded within the next 12-24 months as its operating performance and capital position already have been considered in the ratings process. The ratings could be downgraded if NGIC’s Best’s Capital Adequacy Ratio (BCAR) score declines, its operating performance and risk profile deteriorates, insured losses deplete capital, significant changes and turnover occur in its management team and/or risk management controls and tolerances or WM’s financial condition deteriorates.”

A.M. Best has revised the outlook to positive from stable and affirmed the financial strength rating of ‘A-‘ (Excellent) and the issuer credit rating of “a-” of Maryland-based Westminster American Insurance Company. Best said the positive outlook “reflects Westminster’s strong capitalization, positive pre-tax operating income and its continued profitable underwriting performance, which is attributable to management’s underwriting expertise within its growing commercial lines book of business. Westminster’s favorable capital position is derived from its demutualization in 2005 and the capital contribution from its owner, Westminster American, LLC. Additionally, the management team implemented corrective actions over several years that have vastly improved Westminster’s operating performance causing surplus growth through internal operations.” As a partial offsetting factor Best cited Westminster’s “geographic concentration and slightly elevated expense ratio. Property risks are geographically concentrated in Maryland and the District of Columbia exposing the company’s surplus to weather-related events and competitive market conditions.” However, Best also noted that “Westminster maintains a comprehensive reinsurance program, which mitigates the impact of catastrophic weather-related loss events, while focusing its efforts on gradual geographic diversification though expanded distribution channels. The company’s expenses are somewhat elevated as a result of increased commissions as well as the moving of its headquarters accompanied by updated technology efforts. Westminster writes property/casualty business in Maryland, District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia and Delaware. Westminster’s focus is on commercial lines with business owners’ coverage for apartments, condominiums, cooperatives, rental dwellings and retail risks. In conclusion Best said “continued positive rating action is contingent upon the company’s ability to sustain favorable operating trends, positive underwriting results and favorable loss-reserve development while maintaining strong risk-adjusted capitalization and adequate leverage measures as they continue to grow. Negative rating actions may occur if the operating and underwriting results deteriorate, or if risk-adjusted capitalization declines significantly during the growth.”

A.M. Best has revised the outlook to positive from stable and affirmed the financial strength rating of ‘B++’ (Good) and the issuer credit rating of “bbb+” of Oklahoma-based Triangle Insurance Company, Inc. Best said the “rating actions reflect Triangle’s excellent risk-adjusted capitalization achieved through significantly improved operating profitability, which is reflective of management’s strong niche market knowledge within the agribusiness industry, as well as capital contributions received from its parent company, Triangle Cooperative Service Company Inc. In addition, Triangle’s average underwriting performance has outperformed that of the commercial casualty composite as evidenced by its five and 10-year combined ratios, which compare favorably with the composite.” As a partial offsetting factor Best cited “Triangle’s ongoing vulnerability to natural and man-made catastrophe losses, which somewhat exposes its underwriting results to the potential for increased volatility in operating performance as well as its average operating results that underperformed the composite average when viewed over the long term.” Best’s report added, however that “despite these concerns, the outlook reflects the company’s improved underwriting and operating performance in recent years, excellent risk-adjusted capitalization and strong local presence within the agribusiness market. In conclusion Best said: “Positive rating actions could be taken on Triangle’s ratings over the near term if underwriting and operating results remain strong and in line with projections, while a strong level of risk-adjusted capitalization is maintained. Key factors that could trigger negative actions on Triangle’s ratings include a downturn in operating profitability due to a weakening in underwriting performance and/or an increase in catastrophe-related losses, which weakens overall risk-adjusted capitalization.”

A.M. Best has downgraded the financial strength rating to ‘B-‘ (Fair) from ‘B’ (Fair) and the issuer credit rating to “bb-” from “bb” of Wisconsin-based Ellington Mutual Insurance Company (EMIC), and has maintained its negative outlook for both ratings. Best has concurrently withdrawn the ratings due to management’s request to no longer participate in its interactive rating process.” Best explained that it rating actions are based on its “concerns regarding EMIC’s overall enterprise risk management (ERM), as well as its five-year trend of underwriting and operating losses, overall pricing adequacy, declining risk-adjusted capitalization and policyholders’ surplus. Furthermore, the ratings reflect its dependence on one reinsurer, increased common stock investment leverage, concentrated business profile that has exposed the company to frequent and severe wind and hail events and management’s inability to reverse operating loss trends in the near term.” However Best’s report also indicated that “despite these negative attributes, EMIC has adequate risk-adjusted capitalization, a history of adequate loss-reserving practices, long-standing agency relationships and an historic presence writing property business in underserved rural areas of central Wisconsin.”

 

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