April 20 (Reuters) - Property and casualty insurer Travelers Cos Inc reported an 11 percent fall in quarterly profit hurt by higher catastrophe losses and lower underwriting gains.
The company also authorized a $5 billion share buyback program.
Wind and hail storms in several regions of the United States, as well as a winter storm in the eastern part of the country resulted in higher catastrophe losses during the quarter.
Net income fell to $617 million, or $2.17 per share, in the first quarter ended March 31, from $691 million, or $2.30 per share, a year earlier.
On a core basis, the company earned $2.16 per share.
Total revenue rose 3.8 percent to $6.94 billion.
However, net investment income rose 12 percent to $610 million, reflecting higher interest rates.
December and March saw the latest hikes in interest rates by the U.S. Federal Reserve. A 0.25 percentage point uptick in each case, the hikes marked only the second and third raise in seven years, after being kept near zero.
Travelers invests a lot of its insurance premiums in investment grade bonds, which helped the company come out of the financial crisis in a good shape.
Gains from underwriting, before tax, halved to $211 million.
Pre-tax catastrophe losses, net of reinsurance, rose to $347 million from $318 million.
The underlying combined ratio, the percentage of premium revenue Travelers pays out in claims, rose to 91.7 percent from 90 percent.
A ratio below 100 percent means an insurer earns more in premiums than it pays out in claims.
Net written premiums rose 5.3 percent to $6.50 billion.
St. Paul, Minnesota-based Travelers, the only property and casualty insurer in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, is often considered a bellwether for the sector.
American International Group Inc, with whom it competes for the title of the biggest U.S. P&C insurer, reports first-quarter results on May 3.
Through Wednesday's close, Travelers stock had risen 1.7 percent so far this year. (Reporting by Nikhil Subba and Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta)