Travelers Cos., the only property/casualty insurer in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, said second-quarter profit advanced 19 percent as natural disaster costs dropped.
Net income climbed to $812 million, or $2.53 a share, from $683 million, or $1.95, a year earlier, the New York-based company said Tuesday in a statement. Operating profit, which excludes some investment results, was $2.52 a share, beating the $2.12 average estimate of 25 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.
Chief Executive Officer Jay Fishman has focused in recent years on buying back shares rather than pursuing large takeovers. That contrasts with the approach of Ace Ltd., which announced a deal this month to buy Chubb Corp. for more than $28 billion.
Travelers is “probably better off being a big cash cow” than pursuing megadeals, Paul Newsome, an analyst at Sandler O’Neill & Partners, said in an interview before results were announced. “It’s not terribly exciting perhaps, but it can lead to very good long-term shareholders’ value.”
Travelers climbed 2.3 percent to $105 in early trading at 7:36 a.m. in New York. The insurer had slipped 3.1 percent from Dec. 31 through Monday, after rallying at least 17 percent for three straight years.
The operating return on equity was 14.2 percent, compared with 11.4 percent in the second quarter of 2014. Book value, a measure of assets minus liabilities, slipped to $77.51 a share from $77.96 at the end of March.
Policy sales were $6.17 billion and little changed from a year earlier. Travelers charged domestic business insurance customers one percent more at renewal in the three months ended June 30. That compares with an increase of about 1.3 percent in the first quarter and 3.7 percent in last year’s second quarter.
The insurer posted a combined ratio of 90.8. That improved from a ratio of 95.1 percent in the previous year’s second quarter. Catastrophe costs were $221 million before tax, compared with $436 million a year earlier when hail and windstorms pounded the U.S. from the Rocky Mountains to the Tennessee Valley.
The gain from reserves widened to $207 million pretax from $183 million a year earlier. Insurers regularly reassess the money they’ve set aside for future claims and can reduce or increase the amount based on their expectation of losses.
Net investment income fell to $632 million from $695 million a year earlier. The company, which allocates most of its portfolio to bonds, had lower reinvestment rates on the securities and worse results in the non-fixed-income assets, fueled by lower valuations of energy-related holdings.
Travelers repurchased $801 million of its own stock in the second quarter.
Fishman, 62, who reported profits through the financial crisis, was diagnosed with a neuromuscular condition last year and has cut back on his commitments aside from leading the insurer. He has been CEO since 2004, when he engineered a merger with St. Paul Cos.
[Further details from Travelers Q2 results:
Business and International Insurance Segment Financial Results
Business and International Insurance had operating income of $543 million after-tax and a combined ratio of 93.2. Operating income increased $72 million primarily due to lower catastrophes, higher net favorable prior year reserve development, and a $12 million benefit from the resolution of prior year tax matters in the current quarter.
Net written premiums decreased one percent to $3.679 billion. Domestic net written premiums increased one percent, driven by positive renewal premium changes and an increase in retention rates. International net written premiums decreased 15 percent primarily due to the impact of changes in foreign currency exchange rates, the insurer said.
Personal Insurance Segment Financial Results
Personal Insurance operating income of $174 million after-tax increased by $99 million due to strong underwriting performance, primarily driven by lower catastrophe losses, higher net favorable prior year reserve development, a higher underlying underwriting gain, and a $4 million benefit from the resolution of prior year tax matters in the current quarter.
The combined ratio improved 8.7 points to 91.1, primarily driven by lower catastrophe losses (4.5 points), higher net favorable prior year reserve development (2.8 points), and a lower underlying combined ratio (1.4 points).
Personal Insurance net written premiums of $1.956 billion increased three percent over the same period in 2014. Agency Automobile net written premiums grew by seven percent, primarily due to higher new business that was the insurer attributes to its Quantum 2.0 product. Agency Automobile policies in force increased by four percent from the prior year quarter. While Agency Homeowners & Other net written premiums were comparable to the prior year quarter, new business has improved. Agency Homeowners & Other policies in force, while down two percent from the prior year quarter, increased slightly on a sequential quarter basis.
Commenting on the overall quarter, CEO and Chairman Fishman said: “We remain very pleased with both the stability of the markets in which we compete, as well as how we have executed on our strategies. Given our strong product returns, our goal has been to retain a high percentage of business that meets our return thresholds, to improve profitability where needed, and to actively seek and quote on new business that is consistent with our profitability targets. For the first half of the year, we have achieved our goals as evidenced by historically high retentions, broadly stable renewal pricing, and solid new business. We believe these results demonstrate the value we provide to our agents, brokers, and customers.”]