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I want to preface this article by saying that my heart goes out to anyone affected by the crisis in Japan. That said, while it may seem trivial or even callous to talk about how our investments have been affected by this disaster, for many, these things still matter in terms of financial security, and should be considered.
One of my investments that’s been affected by the crisis is Aflac (NYSE: AFL ) . Insurance companies are some of the hardest-hit by an epic disaster, as the immediate and massive insurance claims can put a wrench in earnings and even threaten liquidity. Aflac, Met Life (NYSE: MET ) , and Prudential (NYSE: PRU ) are among the biggest insurers in Japan. Each has fallen 6%-10% since Thursday, with Aflac taking it the hardest. However, this may be an overreaction.
For one thing, Aflac is a supplemental health and life insurer, meaning it doesn't sell property or casualty insurance. So it won't be on the hook for the massive property damage that has occurred. And, while absolutely tragic, the disaster seems to have struck rural, underinsured areas hardest. These areas represent only about 5% of Aflac’s sales. So, to this extent, Aflac is lucky.
More important is how Aflac is responding to the crisis. Rather than being vague about how it will affect them, CEO Dan Amos has already reassured shareholders by making statements regarding the financial impact on the company and reiterating earnings guidance. Amos was CEO back in 1995, when the massive Kobe earthquake struck Japan, so this isn’t his first rodeo.
In addition to reassuring investors, the company has made moves to reassure Japan itself. Amos told The Wall Street Journal that “our main challenge is to make sure we are paying claims, rather than worry so much about the loss ratio.” The company has also pledged 100 million yen (about $1.2 million) to the International Red Cross to help with rescue efforts. It's even fired Gilbert Gottfried, the longtime voice of the iconic Aflac duck, over jokes he made about the crisis over the weekend, stating: "Aflac Japan -- and, by extension, Japan itself -- is part of the Aflac family, and there is no place for anything but compassion and concern during these difficult times."
Color me impressed. These are the moves of a company that has figured out how to juggle corporate responsibility with shareholder friendliness, and will keep its place in my portfolio.