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When insurance giant American International Group (NYSE: AIG ) announced its second-quarter earnings back in August, investors and analysts alike were happy to see that the company was still producing impressive results. And with investors turning their focus toward growth -- since cost-savings opportunities for most companies have likely played out already -- it was important for the insurer to display the solid growth captured during the latest quarter. And though the numbers were impressive on their own, digging a bit deeper will give AIG's shareholders some longer-lasting confidence that the insurer will produce the same type of results in the quarters to come.
Here are the top three drivers behind AIG's growth opportunities.
1. Escalating policy rates
One of the key determinants of AIG's success in its Property and Casualty division was the solid rise in policy rates in most of its lines. Commercial rates in the U.S. alone rose 7.3% during the quarter, and though the company reported continued softness and competition in international markets, it's their domestic lines that most needed the boost. Since Hurricane Sandy, the insurance market has been transitioning to a "harder" environment, allowing insurers to justify increasing premiums.
2. International markets
AIG operates in 90 counties, and the second quarter marked yet another period of improvements around the globe. Though, as mentioned above, its operations faced higher competition and softer pricing, the insurer recorded 18%+ growth in the majority of its international commercial lines. These markets represent a smaller piece of the company's overall commercial insurance franchise, providing opportunities for expansion.
One of the key moves AIG initiated in the second quarter is the consolidation of its Japanese segments, the merger of AIU and Fuji Fire and Marine. Both firms are highly established insurance providers in the Japanese market, and by combining them, AIG aims to not only cut costs, but find new opportunities in providing products and service to customers. Much like the Japanese merger, which is targeted to close sometime in 2015, AIG combined 25 European entities into a single legal entity toward the end of 2012 in order to streamline operations.
The expansion and consolidation in international markets may open up new opportunities for AIG in an environment that could allow greater chances than domestic expansion. When discussing the international operations in the second-quarter earnings call, both Jay Wintrob, Executive VP of Life and Retirement Services and John Doyle, CEO of Global Commercial Insurance, noted that international operations provide a better return on equity because of a lesser dependence on investing income. Doyle specifically noted that most major lines outside of the U.S. cover their cost of capital at current operating levels. So although the new plans internationally do pose upfront costs, the ROE may prove more worthwhile for shareholders in the long term.
There are two products central to AIG's growth in the second quarter: private mortgage insurance and annuities. In both cases, interest rates play an important role in the insurer's performance going forward.
There has been no shortage of growth in the mortgage guaranty market, with most of the private players raking in plenty of dough during the second quarter. As home prices increase and sales continue, AIG and its rivals will likely see more opportunities for expansion with loans that require mortgage insurance. But the impact of rising interest rates on the pace of home sales is still being debated and could stymie the gang-buster growth AIG has reported for the past two quarters.
But rising interest rates have been the driving force behind the insurer's record level sales of fixed annuities during the second quarter. Since the company reprices these products each week, it can capture the benefits of increases quickly.
Many of AIG's rivals aren't as well positioned to take advantage of this opportunity because of their reductions in exposure to annuities after the low interest rate environment made the product an underperformer. In 2012, both Sun Life Financial (NYSE: SLF ) and Genworth Financial (NYSE: GNW ) exited their respective annuities businesses because returns on capital were no longer worthwhile. MetLife (NYSE: MET ) and Hartford Financial (NYSE: HIG ) also reduced some of their exposure by offering to buy out some annuities contracts from customers or otherwise reducing benefits.
Variable annuities pose a greater risk to insurers, so since 2010, AIG has increased some of its risk-control features within its annuities products, such as VIX Index fees and required minimum allocations to fixed assets, in order to offset some of the losses that its competitors have experienced. A new report from the Congressional Budget Office essentially stated that by offering new products that more closely meet investors' needs, insurers could increase the market share of annuities in the investing environment. AIG seems perfectly poised to take advantage of such a recommendation, while other insurers will be required to rebuild or catch up with their own annuities businesses.
Growing up so fast
Though it's been five years since its near-collapse, AIG has been taking calculated steps to rebuild itself as the largest insurer in the world. And with the growth reported over the past few quarters, the insurance behemoth has certainly been delivering. By diving a bit deeper into the driving factors behind AIG's growth, investors can see that there are sustained opportunities for the company to capitalize on in the quarters ahead.