Commercial Auto Insurers Still Struggle to Profit: Fitch

Commercial automobile insurers reported a third consecutive year of underwriting losses in 2013.

According to an analysis by Fitch Ratings, the combined ratio came in at 106 for 2013 compared with 107 for 2012.

In a special report, “Commercial Auto Insurance Market Update: Underwriting Losses Accumulate,” Fitch said commercial auto results are trending differently from other lines, noting that the property/casualty industry aggregate posted a significant underwriting gain for 2013—the market’s best year since 2007.

Commercial auto underwriting losses are a function of multiple years of significant price deterioration prior to 2011, combined with an erosion of underwriting standards to retain business in the economic downturn of 2008-2009, according to Fitch.

Fitch said commercial auto policyholders continue to face pressure in the current slow-growth environment, which limits expansion in commercial auto underwriting exposures.

Additionally, recent increases in claims severity have sparked a shift towards loss reserve deficiencies. Incurred losses in accident years 2010-2012 have developed unfavorably since inception for the industry in commercial auto. Further recognition of inadequate loss reserves is likely to hinder near-term earnings improvement in this segment.

Premium rate increases in commercial auto insurance have been more muted versus other under-performing market segments since the commercial lines underwriting cycle turned in second-half 2011. Signs that the momentum for further price hikes is waning reduce the likelihood that the commercial auto line will quickly revert to an underwriting profit position in 2014.

Despite poor industry performance in commercial auto, a number of insurers continue to report strong underwriting results in this line. Among the leading commercial auto insurance writers, Berkshire Hathaway Group, Progressive Corp. and Erie Indemnity Co. were the most profitable in the segment during 2009-2013.

Source: Fitch Ratings