May 9, 2018 / 12:15 PM / 2 months ago

Zurich Insurance plays down M&A talk as first quarter premiums beat

ZURICH/LONDON (Reuters) - Zurich Insurance (ZURN.S) has no plans for a big merger, it said on Wednesday, despite speculation of a pick-up in dealmaking in the industry and that the Swiss company could get involved.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Zurich Insurance Group is seen at the company's headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland September 2, 2013. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/File Photo

The insurer’s comments came as it beat analysts’ forecasts with a 5 percent rise in property and casualty (P&C) premiums for the first quarter.

Zurich’s share price has fluctuated in recent weeks on speculation of a takeover bid by rival Allianz (ALVG.DE). Allianz CEO Oliver Baete said in an interview with the Financial Times this week he was open to a merger of equals.

French insurer AXA’s (AXAF.PA) recent $15 billion purchase of Bermuda-based XL (XL.N) has also driven talk of more consolidation in the industry, following a record year for insurance losses from natural disasters in 2017.

“We don’t exist to do M&A,” Zurich’s chief financial officer George Quinn told an analysts’ call, saying the focus for Europe’s fifth-largest insurer was on smaller transactions.

“We don’t believe in this large-scale multi-market approach to M&A, it’s a huge distraction for the business. It’s pretty rare that in this world, two plus two equals four, or more than four.”

Zurich generated $9.33 billion in P&C gross written premiums in the first quarter, up 5 percent in dollar terms but down 1 percent like-for-like as the firm focused on profitability.

Gross written premiums for P&C had been expected at around $9.1 billion, according to a Reuters survey of three analysts.

Zurich did not give first-quarter profit figures, but said it was continuing to make good progress towards its 2017-2019 targets. It is targeting $1.5 billion in cost cuts by the end of 2019.

Vontobel analysts described the results as a “relatively solid start to the year”, reiterating their “hold” rating on the stock.

For the flagship P&C business, growth in Asia-Pacific and Latin America was mainly offset by curtailed activity in North America.

P&C premium rate increases totalled around 2 percent overall, though Quinn said rates in North American regions affected by last year’s natural catastrophes such as hurricanes and wildfires were likely to rise further.

Zurich’s life insurance premium sales rose 13 percent like-for-like to $1.25 billion on an annual premium equivalent basis, which takes account of policies with large single payments as well as those with regular annual payments.

The new business margin for life insurance was 25.2 percent and the new business value was stable at $273 million.

At 1245 GMT, Zurich’s shares were up 0.4 percent at 318.30 Swiss francs.

Additional reporting by Paul Arnold; Editing by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi and Mark Potter

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