November 8, 2019 / 10:10 AM / 14 days ago

Lloyd's insurer Beazley outshines rival Hiscox in tough claims environment

(Reuters) - Stock in London-based insurer Beazley BEZG.L climbed more than 7% on Friday despite pointing to an underwriting loss for the year as falling U.S. yields boosted investment returns, helping it fare better in comparison to larger rival Hiscox.

While Beazley set aside $80 million to cover catastrophe claims at the end of an expensive quarter for listed Lloyd’s insurers, it said year-to-date returns on investment had surged to $215 million from $26 million while gross written premiums also rose.

The U.S. Federal Reserve has cut interest rates thrice this year to help boost the world’s largest economy, which has been bruised by a trade war with China.

Last month, two-year U.S. Treasury yields slipped to levels not seen since 2017 while 10-year yields in September hit three-year lows amid weak investor sentiment.

That has helped push up bond prices, benefiting Beazley after a relatively weaker 2018 in terms of investment returns when the Fed hiked rates four times.

Beazley, however, said it expects its full-year combined ratio - normally the main gauge of profitability for insurers - to be between 100% and 102%. Readings over 100% indicate claims exceeded premiums earned.

The $80 million reserved by Beazley for payouts on natural catastrophes compares to the $33.2 million set aside by rival Lancashire (LRE.L).

Larger player Hiscox (HSX.L) earmarked $165 million to cover claims earlier this week while also increasing combined ratio targets for its retail business.

The Bank of England has warned it will scrutinize insurers that are overly optimistic about how much capital they require to cover growing risks from the United States and elsewhere.

The Hiscox update sparked a 15% plunge in its share price since Monday as at least five brokerages cut their price targets on the stock.

In Friday’s statement, Beazley Chief Executive Andrew Horton said the company continued to experience heightened claims activity due to its exposure to catastrophes in the third quarter.

He also said the firm had been increasing reserves since the start of 2018 in expectation of more claims in liability insurance.

UBS analysts have estimated natural catastrophe losses for 2019 would reach $70 billion, adding that could eat into insurers’ reserves and lead to higher prices.

Aside from claims relating to hurricanes, typhoons and wildfires, some Lloyd’s insurers are also exposed to claims around litigation, which analysts say could include the U.S. opioid epidemic and child sex abuse cases.

“Casualty rates are increasing at 4-5% but it is not clear whether this is sufficient to offset the underlying claims trends which seem to be widening their impact across various casualty lines,” Peel Hunt analysts wrote in a note on Beazley.

Reporting by Muvija M and Noor Zainab Hussain in Bengaluru, additional reporting by Carolyn Cohn in London; editing by Patrick Graham and Dale Hudson

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