MetLife to Take $275M in Charges Related to Life Benefits, Catastrophes

October 7, 2011

MetLife Inc., the largest life insurer in the United States, said Thursday it would take up to $275 million in third-quarter charges, in part to increase reserves for policies where it may know the holder is dead but no claim has been filed.

Earlier this year, California regulators subpoenaed the company on its practices related to benefits payouts. The subpoena was spurred by an audit that the state said showed MetLife failed to pay even when it knew the insured was dead.

In particular, regulators nationwide have been looking into industry use of the Social Security Administration’s “Death Master File,” amid claims that companies used the list to end annuity payments but not to find and pay policyholders.

MetLife said it would take an after-tax charge of $115 million to $135 million to adjust reserves for cases where benefits may be payable.

It also forecast charges of $80 million to $100 million for catastrophe losses in its auto and home business — more than twice what it had expected for the period. Like other insurers, the company blamed the impact of late August’s Hurricane Irene, the first hurricane to hit the United States in three years.

In addition, MetLife said it would take a $40 million charge for the liquidation of Executive Life Insurance Company of New York, its share of obligations under industry guaranty agreements. Executive Life went into rehabilitation in 1991, and New York authorities moved to liquidate it in September.

MetLife is due to report full results for the quarter later this month. Analysts expect it to have been a difficult quarter for the life insurance industry in particular as weak stock markets and low interest rates hurt investment income.

MetLife shares, which were the top gainer among S&P insurance stocks on Thursday, fell 2.8 percent to $29.83 in after-hours trading on the news.

(Reporting by Ben Berkowitz, editing by Matthew Lewis)

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