Monday, November 16, 2009

Hiscox asserts health amid grim 2010 outlook

hiscox insurance

Hiscox said it was in robust health to deal with what is likely to be a more difficult 2010 and that it would not promise extra pay-outs to investors.

Robert Hiscox, chairman of the Lloyd’s of London and specialist insurer, said that special capital returns to shareholders made sense for some businesses, especially those most focused on Bermuda.

However, he added: “We are still building and investing money in the US but beyond the dividend we are not promising any pay-backs at this time.”

Lancashire, a smaller, Bermuda-focused rival, said last week it would return more than $400m to shareholders after a year that had seen very limited catastrophe losses and strong recovery in investment markets.

Some analysts expect a wave of special dividends and share buy-backs as a result of the reinsurance industry having far more capital in its businesses than was expected a year ago during the depths of the financial crisis.

Mr Hiscox was talking as the company reported 10.5 per cent growth in group-wide new business at constant currency rates for the first nine months.

By far the most improved area was the US, which saw 61 per cent growth in dollar terms, from $83.4m to $133.9m (£80.6m). In sterling terms sales were 80 per cent higher at £87.2m.

Hiscox said on Monday that in spite of the industry’s capital losses in 2008, it had not seen across-the-board premium rate rises as some had expected. However, it added that it had still seen increases of more than 10 per cent across its key reinsurance lines.

“Rates are stable and still very healthy in most areas, particularly reinsurance which accounts for most of our business,” Mr Hiscox said.

However, he added that if the year played out with still low catastrophe losses and no more upheaval in financial markets then he could not forecast that the industry’s performance would be repeated next year.

Thomas Dorner at Oriel Securities said: “Investment returns are very strong and will likely drive strong 2009 profits, although, as Hiscox point out, future returns will come under pressure.”

Separately, Beazley reported gross written premiums up 18 per cent at constant exchange rates, or 45 per cent in sterling, to £861.9m over the first nine months.