The last few years have been good ones for the property casualty insurance industry in terms of profitability. But it’s been a long time coming, according to Robert Hartwig, president of the Insurance Information Institute.
The industry turned in record profits in 2006 and the numbers for 2007 so far are showing another profitable year, although not as stellar as 2006. All the figures for 2007 are not in, Hartwig said, but profits are likely to be in the $63 billion to $64 billion range for the year. He expects 2008, barring any major catastrophes, to be profitable as well, although perhaps not as robustly so as the previous two years.
During this decade the industry has rebounded from its worst year ever in 2001 to its best year ever in terms of pure dollars in 2006. To Hartwig, the insurance industry’s ability to swing back from record lows to record highs in less than 10 years shows “how resilient the industry is.”
The Texas market has been riding the profitability trend, in some cases outperforming other areas of the country, despite the fact that it has a much more volatile market than the United States overall.
Still, recent profits don’t tell the whole story, said Hartwig, speaking in late January at the Independent Insurance Agents of Texas’ 45th Annual Joe Vincent Management Seminar. The volatility and cyclicality of the property casualty industry means that while the industry may experience several years in a row of profitability, it can just as well suffer through many extremely low performing years. In fact, Hartwig said, over the past 19 years the P/C industry has consistently underperformed the Fortune 500, even in the last two years.
So, he said, “criticisms that you hear, that the industry is greedy and earning grievous levels of profitability on the backs of poor people across the country is simply ludicrous. It doesn’t stand up to the facts.”
He said “the industry hits its peaks in profitability every nine to 10 years. Then it takes us about four, five, six years to descend down into the trough. The peaks are usually in the teens, the troughs are usually in the low single digits. Our last trough was in 2001 with a negative 1 percent rate of return.”
While the Texas market has improved along with the rest of the P/C industry throughout the decade, Hartwig reminded his audience of independent agents that it was not so long ago that the property market was “much, much worse. And that’s due to everyone’s scariest four-letter word: mold.”
He added that even without mold, the Texas homeowners market traditionally has been “incredibly volatile.” From 1992 through 2006, the return on equity for the market was an average 0.14 percent. “The good years are offset by the bad years on average over a long period of time,” Hartwig said. “2007 is going tO be a good year. … Anything could happen in ’08 with cat losses and drive it back down.
Hartwig explained that “in the United States two types of cat losses account for 75 percent of all losses. Texas has both of them — hurricanes and tornadoes.”
Editor’s Note: Look for the complete version of this story in the Feb. 11, 2008, edition of Insurance Journal-South Central.