Good News From the Insurance Industry

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Our global economic recovery will happen in fits and starts. Pore through the news for promising signs and you'll find them. The property and casualty insurance industry, for example, just offered good news.

You probably haven't read your copy of Insurance Journal cover to cover yet, so let me just tell you that in the first half of 2010, property and casualty insurers' net income more than doubled over year-ago levels, rising from $6 billion to $16.5 billion. Using standard practices in the industry, the companies' net worth advanced 3.7% to $530.5 billion since the beginning of the year, while their net investment gains more than doubled from the first half of last year. According to the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, U.S. property and casualty insurance sales increased for the first time in 13 quarters, due partly to companies raising rates.

That has meant good news for some of the biggest players in the property and casualty insurance business, making them worth taking a look at as possible investments.

Chubb (NYSE: CB  ) : Chubb has remained profitable throughout our recent tough years, and its stock sports an attractive valuation now, with below-average P/E levels. It also offers a 2.5% dividend, which has been growing by more than 12% annually over the past five years.

Markel (NYSE: MKL  ) : Referred to by some as a mini-Berkshire Hathaway, this solid performer, a Motley Fool Inside Value selection, has enjoyed strong investment results (recently investing in Teva Pharmaceutical and Pre-Paid Legal Services, among others). Since debuting on the market in 1986, Markel has upped its book value per share by 21% per year, on average.

Progressive (NYSE: PGR  ) : Progressive has had TV-commercial enthusiasts buzzing about its ads featuring bubbly saleswoman Flo. The company's combined ratio, reflecting its underwriting profitability, has improved over the past year, moving further into the black. Its August results featured more policies in force and earnings up 21% over year-ago levels.

Allstate (NYSE: ALL  ) : Allstate's earnings turned into losses in 2008 as its investment portfolio took a big hit, but the company is back to profitability. It has been raising rates to help boost its income.

With our economy still slumping, this is a great time to invest in some promising companies and build a watchlist to help you take advantage of even more compelling prices.

Good insurers like to play it safe. You might do the same with these companies that can make retirees rich.

True to its name, The Motley Fool is made up of a motley assortment of writers and analysts, each with a unique perspective; sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree, but we all believe in the power of learning from each other through our Foolish community.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway. Berkshire Hathaway and Markel are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Berkshire Hathaway is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. The Fool owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway, Markel, and Teva Pharmaceutical. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.

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