Low Disaster Claims Boost Profits in Third Quarter for European Insurers

By and | November 6, 2014

European insurers posted strong increases in earnings in the third quarter, helped by a slump in payouts for catastrophe damage, rising premium income, cost cuts and a weaker euro.

Besides losses from the Malaysia Airlines jet downed over Ukraine and the destruction of planes at Tripoli airport, property and casualty insurers saw few big payouts while life insurers reported a healthy rise in sales.

The three months to the end of September are typically the peak season for Atlantic hurricanes, but this year there have been fewer storms sparing insurers billions of dollars in payouts seen in the past.

Two years ago, insurers paid about $30 billion in claims after Hurricane Sandy battered the United States while floods in central Europe last year cost them some $3 billion.

Insurers in Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom all reported upbeat earnings for the third quarter on Wednesday while shares in the Nordic region’s second largest insurer hit a record high after it raised its financial targets and announced a share buy-back program.

Belgian insurance company Ageas posted third- quarter profits well above expectations as its life and non-life businesses fared well and Belgian and Chinese earnings were strong.

The successor to bailed-out and broken-up Belgian-Dutch group Fortis, said net profit from insurance operations rose 42 percent to 239 million euros ($298 million), way ahead of the highest forecast of 185 million euros in a Reuters poll of banks and brokerages.

Ageas shares rose 4 percent to hit their highest level since the end of July and were among the strongest gainers in the FTSEurofirst 300 index of leading European shares.

The insurance arm of Dutch banking giant ING Group, NN Group NV, posted strong sales across all regions and a 17 percent rise in quarterly operating profit, helped by cost cuts and lower debt funding costs.

The market has been concerned about NN Group and Ageas for the past few quarters and now they’re beating expectations, said JPMorgan Cazenove analyst Ashik Musaddi.

Their results have been very good this quarter and this is mainly down to cost savings, cost management and better investment on their own assets. They’re getting a higher yield than the market was expecting, he said.

Foreign Boost

The slump in catastrophe claims, along with the purchase of Lloyd’s of London insurer Cathedral Capital, helped UK property and casualty insurer Lancashire Holdings Ltd lift pretax profit by 40 percent.

Insurers said also earnings got a fillip from the weakening euro, which raised the value in euro terms of sales outside the currency bloc. The euro fell 3.96 percent against a basket of currencies in the third quarter and is down 4.9 percent since the start of 2014.

French life insurer CNP Assurances posted a 3.8 percent rise in nine-month net profit on the back of 13 percent growth in premium income.

Strong growth in international business and in health and life premiums helped Spanish insurer Mapfre’s pre-tax profit rise 13 percent over the first nine months of the year.

The world’s third largest reinsurer Hannover Re posted a forecast-beating 21 percent rise in net profit to 251 million euros in the third quarter, helped by rising premiums and investment income.

The company said it was very confident of reaching, or beating, its 850 million euro net profit target this year and expected to earn around 875 million next year. Analysts polled by Reuters on average expect 870 million in 2015.

Hannover Re has said it would consider extra dividends and buying back shares to reduce excess capital in the future. On Wednesday it said it was sticking to its plan of paying out 35-40 percent of net profit for now.

Hannover’s Chief Financial Officer Roland Vogel also said the decline in reinsurance prices that has hampered the industry over the last two years seemed to be “bottoming out” and he expected prices to largely stabilize in 2015.

In the Nordic region, shares in Danish insurer Tryg hit record highs after it raised its long-term financial targets, announced a 1 billion Danish crown ($168 million) share buy-back program for 2015.

One of the few disappointments on Wednesday came from British motor insurer esure Group Plc. Its shares slid as much as 8 percent after the company reported a 7.4 percent drop in gross written premiums in the third quarter and said it expected underwriting results to worsen. (1 US dollar = 0.8012 euro)

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