Of Mountains and Molehills at Everest Re

I'm not sure that the reinsurance business is exactly ideal for the needs and desires of Wall Street. After all, investors typically crave growth more than anything else, and yet they fear the risk of loss. So when insurance companies like Everest Re (NYSE: RE  ) come up to the plate, there's that paradoxical back-and-forth between wanting premium growth but not wanting companies to sacrifice their underwriting discipline to get it.

From the looks of it, though, Everest Re seems to be on the right course. Yes, revenue was down 16% overall, as gross premiums fell 18%, when most folks were expecting growth. By the same token, the combined ratio looked good and the company posted operating income results that were both up 26% and ahead of analyst guesstimates. It was also encouraging to see good performance on investment income and expense ratio metrics.

Net premiums were down virtually everywhere. Some of the drops were modest (10% in the international business) and others less so (44% in specialty), but only the Bermuda segment showed growth (up 30%). Nevertheless, management sounds pretty confident about better growth in the second half of the year, and North American catastrophe renewals were apparently quite strong in July.

I suspect that this is an industry most individual investors never even consider. After all, before you can figure out if you should own Arch Capital (Nasdaq: ACGL  ) or RenaissanceRe (NYSE: RNR  ) , you have to understand the basics -- like "what's a 'net premium'?" -- and then go on to learn about the differences in long-tail and short-tail ... and so on.

At a basic level, though, it's about the combination of returns on capital, savvy and prudent underwriting, and the flexibility to pursue appealing lines of business when the prices are right. Everest Re does that pretty well, even if they don't always meet investors' desires for immediate top-line growth.

With so many options -- including somewhat specialized companies like Endurance (NYSE: ENH  ) or Montpelier Re (NYSE: MRH  ) , and more broadly diversified plays like AIG (NYSE: AIG  ) -- Fools should certainly shop around.

For more reassuring Foolishness:

MonpelierRe is a recommendation of both Stock Advisor and Hidden Gems. Whatever your investing style, the Fool hasa newsletter for you.

Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).

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