February 25, 2018 / 9:39 PM / a year ago

CORRECTED-UPDATE 1-QBE posts annual loss as claims balloon, emerging markets falter

(Removes reference to analysts’ estimates in 2nd paragraph)

Feb 26 (Reuters) - Australia’s biggest insurer, QBE Insurance Group, reported an annual loss on Monday, as claims from natural disasters soared and its emerging-markets business underperformed.

Cash loss for the year ended Dec. 31 came in at $258 million compared with a profit of $898 million a year ago. Net loss for the year came in at $1.25 billion, compared with $844 million profit last year.

The insurer had said last month that it would record an after-tax loss of $1.2 billion as payouts related to California wildfires, storms in Australia and Hurricane Maria weighed on earnings.

“Natural disasters were not the only challenge confronted by QBE during the year, with the performance of the Emerging Markets division a major disappointment due to adverse claims experience in numerous portfolios,” the company said in a statement.

QBE said its combined operating ratio (COR) was at 104.8 percent, slightly higher from its previously expected target of 104 percent, and maintained fiscal 2018 target range of 95.0 - 97.5 percent. The COR denotes the percentage of claims payouts against premium income. The higher the figure, the greater the payouts versus premium income, and the bigger the burden on the insurer.

Gross written premiums for fiscal 2017 fell to $14.19 billion from $14.40 billion after QBE said in August that it expected a modest growth in the metric.

QBE declared a final dividend of A$0.04 cents per share, lower than A$0.33 a share last year. The insurer said its A$1 billion share-buyback program, announced last February, was on track. (Reporting by Susan Mathew in Bengaluru, editing by Larry King)

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