Over the last few years, the insurance business has typically found itself in better shape simply because more consumers are now on firmer financial footing than they were during and immediately following the recession. However, as many agents know all too well, this kind of recovery for the industry as a whole has not been as uniform as possible, and even among certain types of property and casualty insurance, the positive movements are still somewhat uneven.
Fitch Ratings recently found that among 48 publicly traded companies selling P&C insurance, aggregate operating earnings rose 30 percent last year on an annual basis, according to a report from Property Casualty 360. Of that group, just seven of the firms saw operating return on equity decline, and the ratio is now up to 93.3 from 2012’s 88.1. At the same time, though, only four companies cleared ratios of more than 100.
Essentially, the reason for these more or less across-the-board improvements was that underwriting improved significantly, the report said. Overall, 2013 had relatively few major natural disasters for companies to deal with, and as such there were fewer losses suffered. However, that also might not be something on which insurers will be able to depend in the future.
“Pricing gains have slowed in primary lines and property-reinsurance rates declined at the Jan. 1 renewal,” Fitch wrote in announcing the findings. “An anticipated return to normalized catastrophe activity and diminishment of reserve releases suggests that 2014 underwriting margins will more likely decline.”
Which sectors performed best?
Among insurers that participated in different types of P&C coverage, perhaps the most successful were those in the diversified commercial sector, as 12 of the 13 companies examined saw operating profitability increase over the course of 2013, the report said. Regional and specialty commercial insurers also fared about as well. At the other end of the spectrum, only about half of companies with involvement in personal P&C insurance lines reported stronger reserves at the end of 2013, while reinsurers did slightly better when it comes to improved underwriting standards.
Agents working in these and other sectors will have to keep a close eye on developments over the course of 2014, because there are many expectations for continued economic improvement during that time. That, in turn, could lead to their having more business as time goes on.