While an earnings report can tell you plenty of information on a company's progress, there's nothing quite like hearing it straight from the horse's mouth. Didn't have time to listen to The Hartford's (NYSE: HIG ) earnings conference call? No problem -- here's the top three points you need to hear.
It's all about pricing
Firstly, a common thread through all of the insurers' reports that have come out so far is pricing initiatives. The Hartford reported a sixth consecutive quarter of 8% increases for its standard commercial property and casualty renewal pricing. The P&C commercial division was faithfully pursuing the initiative -- to the point of walking away from accounts where a meaningful increase could not be met, according to Commercial Markets President Doug Elliot.
The company noticed an increased sense of competition in the market during the end of the year. This is likely due to other companies improving their pricing strategies as well. Traveler's Companies (NYSE: TRV ) noted the success of its new auto product to address more competitive pieces of the market in terms of pricing.
Despite continued pushes to increase pricing, The Hartford has maintained top of the line retention rates. Especially within its centerpiece segment, Small business, the 7% pricing gains for the full year 2013 were not a deterrent for customers, which renewed policies at a pace of 82%.
Maintaining pricing levels above loss costs will remain a focus for the firm during 2014.
Due in part to the success of pricing policies, as well as expense reduction plans, The Hartford announced a new capital management plan for 2014-2015. Over the next two years, the insurer will execute share buybacks totaling $2 billion, equally split over the two years. In addition, $656 million in debt will be retired.
As of the first business day in Feb., the company had already repurchased a total of $151 million in shares. Funding for the share repurchases will come from increased dividends from the company's operations to the holding company. Though this doesn't seem like a big deal, 2014 will mark the first time that the company's Talcott Resolutions segment will provide a capital return to the holding company.
Reducing the company's exposure to Talcott Resolution's variable annuity blocks remain a huge priority to The Hartford's management. Following the 31% and 12% decreases in Japanese and US policy accounts, respectively, the insurer believes that further surrenders of the VA accounts are forthcoming.
The account lapses in Japan were higher than the company expected during 2013, but due to the out-of-the-moneyness of the
accounts, further reductions are expected. Moneyness is the degree to which an account is above (out) or below (in) the maximum guaranteed amount.
For Talcott, most of the account value for its Japanese VA block was 110% of the guaranteed amount, making a very significant number of accounts out-of-the-money. Trends have shown the company that as policies come to the annuity commencement date, if they are out of the money, a high number of customers will choose to take the lump sum payment offered by The Hartford. With that in mind, the insurer is estimating a 30% surrender rate during 2014 for Japanese accounts.
A good year
2013 was a solid year for The Hartford, with major improvements in pricing, expense cuts, and risk reductions. All of management's big priorities for the year got checked off on their to-do list. With 2014 expected to follow in close suit to 2013, investors can expect The Hartford to report increased earnings from most segments (except Talcott) and plenty of other good news.
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