Surplus Lines Premium Grows in Response to Weak Results; Top 15 E&S Writers: Fitch

By | October 7, 2019

Direct written premiums in the U.S. excess and surplus (E&S) lines market during 2018 grew at its greatest rate since 2012, increasing 11% and representing the eighth consecutive year of premium growth, according to Fitch Ratings.

The trend continued its upward trajectory in the first half of 2019 with premium growth of 15%, said Fitch in a report titled “U.S. Excess and Surplus Lines Market Review – Consecutive Weak Results Spurs Stronger Revenue Growth.”

All major E&S lines of business contributed to the period to period growth, which nearly doubled the overall property/casualty market’s growth rate for the year, the report added.

At the same time, the E&S market significantly underperformed the broader P/C industry for the second consecutive year in 2018, reporting a 107% direct statutory combined ratio, compared with 116% in 2017, said Fitch, noting that large insured catastrophe losses during the past two years were key drivers of this poor performance. The ratings agency pointed to Hurricanes Michael and Florence and the California wildfires in 2018 and Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria during the previous year.

The poor results seen by the E&S sector in 2017 and 2018 contrast with an average combined ratio of 92% during the prior five years (2012-2016), said Fitch. While the E&S market historically reports better underwriting performance than the admitted P/C market, its specialized nature and more attractive competitive dynamics, bring greater volatility, the report explained.

“Underwhelming underwriting results have accelerated premium rate increases, particularly in the commercial property and auto segments,” said Doug Pawlowski, senior director, Insurance.

Above-Average E&S Growth Expected

Fitch predicted that further premium rate hardening and movement of underwriting exposures toward non-admitted markets will support above average E&S market premium growth in the near term.

“Reduced admitted insurer appetite for catastrophe-exposed property risks, and limits and capacity reduction in several liability segments, are driving further premium growth in 2019,” Fitch said, pointing to chronic losses in commercial auto that are pushing business to the E&S market.

M&A, Organic Growth

Efforts to improve profits by leading E&S market participants, including Lloyd’s and American International Group Inc., via changes in their policy limits and reduction in risk appetite are also significantly affecting underwriting conditions – and pushing premium rates up. (Lloyd’s and AIG are the top two E&S underwriters.)

15 Largest E&S Direct Premiums Written – 2018 DPW ($Mil.)

Company IFS Rating E&S Only All Lines %E&S
1. Lloyd’s of London AA- 11,759 47,606 24.7
2. American International Group Inc A 3,566 14,815 24.1
3. Markel Corporation A+ 2,497 5,255 47.5
4. Berkshire Hathaway Inc. AA+ 2,246 43.708 5.1
5. W.R. Berkley Corporation A+ 1,841 5,931 31.0
6. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company NR 1,776 18,417 9.6
7. Fairfax Financial Holdings NR 1,572 6,061 25.9
8. Chubb Limited AA 1,462 22,125 6.6
9. AXA AA- 1,444 4,811 30.0
10. Liberty Mutual Insurance Company A- 1,264 34,605 3.7
11. Alleghany Group A+/A 889 1,510 58.9
12. Zurich American Insurance Company NR 862 12,412 6.9
13. Tokio Marine Holdings Inc NR 822 7,337 11.2
14. Argo Group US Inc NR 809 1,676 48.3
15. QBE North America A+ 735 4,449 16.5
Top 15 33,544 230,720 14.5

“The overall E&S market is anticipated to return to a slight direct underwriting profit in 2019, barring further large catastrophe losses, as pricing in commercial lines firm in nearly all segments, except for workers’ compensation,” said Fitch, adding that commercial property and automobile lines are experiencing the sharpest rate increases.

M&A activity had less influence on E&S market share shifts during 2018 than during 2017, said Fitch. Transactions that included significant E&S business in 2018 and 2019 were AIG’s acquisition of Validus Holdings (July 2018) and Hartford Financial Services Group purchase of The Navigators Group in May 2019.

Fitch said AIG was the only top-10 E&S writer to shrink its direct written premiums (DWP) during 2018, with a 6% decline. Although the company’s DWP have declined by 24% since 2014, the company has maintained its position as the largest E&S market outside of Lloyd’s.

From an organic growth standpoint, Fitch said, Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s expansion continues to stand out, reporting a market-leading five-year average direct premium growth of 31%.

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