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First American Financial Corp  (NYSE:FAF)
Q3 2018 Earnings Conference Call
Oct. 25, 2018, 11:00 a.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Greetings and welcome to the First American Financial Corporation Third Quarter Earnings Conference Call. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. A brief question-and-answer session will follow the formal presentation. (Operator Instructions) . A copy of yesterday's press release is available on First American's website at www.firstam.com/investor.

Please note that this call is being recorded and will be available for replay from the company's investors website and for a short time by dialing (877) 660-6853 or (201) 612-7415 and entering the conference ID 13683867.

And now I'll turn the call our to Craig Barberio Vice President Investor Relations to make an introductory statement.

Craig Barberio -- Vice President Investor Relations

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to First American's third quarter 2018 earnings conference call. Joining us today will be our Chief Executive Officer, Dennis Gilmore; and Mark Seaton, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer.

Some of the statements made today may contain forward-looking statements that do not relate strictly to historical or current fact. These forward-looking statements speak only as of the date they are made, and the company does not undertake to update forward-looking statements to reflect circumstance or events that occur after the date the forward-looking statements are made. Risk and uncertainties exist that may cause results to differ materially from those set forth in these forward-looking statements.

For more information on these risks and uncertainties, please refer to this morning's earnings release and the risk factors discussed in our Form 10-K and subsequent SEC filings.

Our presentation today contains certain non-GAAP financial measures that we believe provide additional insight into the operational efficiency and performance of the company relative to earlier periods and relative to the company's competitors. For more details on these non-GAAP financial measures, including presentation with and reconciliations to the most directly comparable GAAP financial measures, please refer to today's earnings release, which is available on our website at www.firstam.com.

I will now turn the call over to Dennis Gilmore.

Dennis Gilmore -- Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Craig. Good morning, and thank you for joining our call. I will review our third quarter results and then discuss our outlook.

This quarter, we posted earnings of $1.34 per share on revenues of 1.5 billion. In our title segment, purchase revenues were up 1% this quarter, driven by higher fee profile.

Revenues were up 5% in our commercial business as we continue to experience healthy demand across the majority of our markets. Refinance revenue dropped 23% during the quarter and now accounts for just 9% of our direct title revenue. Although, rising rates continue to negatively impact our mortgage volumes, the increase in short-term rates helped drive our investment income up 61% relative to last year.

The growth in investment income has had a material impact on our earnings throughout 2018. And this trend will continue as the federal reserve raises rates. Overall, our title segment posted a pre-tax margin of 14.6%.

Turning to our Specialty Insurance segment. Revenues increased by 5% during the quarter and the segment posted a pre-tax margin of 5%. Our home warranty business continues to perform well with revenues up 8%. Although, we experienced higher claim severity, largely in line with normal seasonal factors.

The loss ratio for property and casualty business declined this quarter, due to lower claim frequency. Overall, the loss ratio for the Specialty Insurance segment was unchanged at 65%.

During the quarter, a number of factors reduced housing affordability, contributing to a well-documented slowdown in the purchase market. In the third quarter, our purchase open orders declined 4%. For the first three weeks of October this trend has continued with purchase orders down 5% compared to last year. In a response, we continue to make the appropriate adjustments to our cost structure.

Heading into the fourth quarter, our commercial pipeline is strong and investment income will continue to rise as a result of the Federal Reserve September rate hike.

Longer term, our continued focus on operating efficiency, combined with rising investment income and a healthy economy, will enable us to maintain our strong financial performance. Given our unique assets and commitment to innovation, First American is well positioned and remains focused on deploying capital in a manner that delivers long-term value to our shareholders.

I'll now turn the call over to Mark for a more detailed review of our financial results.

Mark Seaton -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thank you, Dennis. In the Title Insurance and Services segment, direct premium and escrow fees were down 1% compared with last year. This decrease reflects the 14% decline in the number of direct title orders closed, largely offset by a 16% increase in the average revenue per order.

The average revenue per order increased to $2,667, primarily due to an increase in the average revenue per commercial order, higher residential real estate values and a shift in the order mix to higher premium purchase and commercial transactions.

The average revenue per order for purchase transactions increased 6%, while the average revenue per order for commercial transactions increased 10%.

Agent premiums, which are recorded on approximately a one quarter lag relative to direct premiums, were down 2%, largely driven by lower volumes in California. The agent split was 78.9% of agent premiums.

Information and other revenues totaled 196 million, down 2% compared with last year. Declining revenues from lower mortgage origination and foreclosure activity were largely offset by revenues from recent acquisitions.

Investment income within the Title Insurance and Services segment was 61 million, up 61%. Higher average balances and the increase in short-term interest rates drove higher interest income in the company's investment portfolio and cash balances.

Higher short-term rates benefit our escrow deposits, operating cash, cash deferred property exchange business and our bank, where we held 4.8 billion in cash and debt securities as of September 30. We expect investment income to continue to grow in the fourth quarter given the Fed's September rate increase.

Personnel costs was 426 million, up 1% from the prior year. This increase is primarily driven by higher personnel costs associated with recent acquisitions and higher employee benefit costs, which was significantly offset by a decline in incentive compensation.

Other operating expenses were 201 million, up 2% from last year. The increase was driven by a 5.7 million expense related to a legacy regulatory matter. The provision for title policy losses and other claims was 46 million or 4% of title premiums and escrow fees, unchanged relative to the prior year. The current quarter rate reflects an ultimate loss rate of 4% for the current policy year with no change in the loss reserve estimates for prior policy years.

Pretax income for the Title Insurance and Services segment was 207 million in the third quarter compared with 181 million in the third quarter of 2017. Pretax margin was 14.6% compared with 13% last year.

Net expenses in the corporate segment were 17 million, a decline of 152 million due to an expense related to the completion of the company's pension plan termination in the third quarter of 2017.

The effective tax rate for the quarter was 22.6%, in line with our normalized tax rate of 24%. Cash provided by operations was 231 million, up 4% compared with last year.

Notes and contracts payable on our balance sheet totaled 735 million as of September 30, which consists of 547 million of senior notes, 160 million on our credit facility, 20 million of trustee notes and 8 million of other notes and obligations.

I would now like to turn the call back over to the operator to take your questions.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

Thank you. We will now be conducting a question-and-answer session. (Operator Instructions) Our first question comes from the line of Jason Deleeuw with Piper Jaffray. Please proceed with your question.

Jason Deleeuw -- Piper Jaffray -- Analyst

Good morning, and thanks for taking my question. The revenue was down, the title revenue was down, but the margins were up and helped by the investment income. So can you just help us think about the margins going forward? Can we still get some expansion there even with the slower purchase order volume?

Dennis Gilmore -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, Jason. This is Dennis. We think our margin objective we set out to 11% to 13% is absolutely viable for '19. I think the purchase market is going to go through a little bit of a reset as it's happening right now. Like to our benefit right now will be growth in investment income, growth in our commercial business. So all in all, we think the range we've given is accurate. So I think we are confident going into '19 right now.

Jason Deleeuw -- Piper Jaffray -- Analyst

Okay. Sounds good. And then the next one. Just on the competitive strategy or how you're thinking about the next year if the Fidelity Stewart acquisition is approved, is there any change in your thinking competitively that -- or anything that you would do differently if that transaction is approved?

Dennis Gilmore -- Chief Executive Officer

No. We'll continue to do what we've been doing. And we continue to actively recruit both direct employees and agents.

Jason Deleeuw -- Piper Jaffray -- Analyst

Got it. And then just the last one. The order volumes for First American, they were little bit softer than, kind of, the industry trends. Is there any specific factor you can call out as to explain the difference?

Dennis Gilmore -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. I don't actually think that's accurate by the way. I think we were following the industry trends. We were down 4% in the quarter which is matching our -- and that trend's continued, by the way, into the October timeframe.

So we're actually tracking industry trends. We're not losing shares. So I think when you're referencing the competitor, you probably should backup the acquisitions on that side.

Jason Deleeuw -- Piper Jaffray -- Analyst

Got it. Thanks for that. And that's all I have. Thank you.

Dennis Gilmore -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Mark Hughes with SunTrust Robinson Humphrey. Please proceed with your question.

Mark Hughes -- SunTrust Robinson Humphrey -- Analyst

Yeah. Thank you. Good morning. Just wanted to get your latest thoughts on share buybacks, little volatility in the market, strong balance sheet. How you're looking at that these days?

Mark Seaton -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thanks for the question, Mark. It's something we're discussing. We're evaluating the buybacks relative to other opportunities we have. We've got a real strong capital position, and every day that passes, it just gets stronger and stronger. So given the recent sell-off, buybacks are certainly more effective now than they've been in some time.

Mark Hughes -- SunTrust Robinson Humphrey -- Analyst

And then any -- I think you have suggested the commercial pipeline is strong. Anything -- order flows, any other specifics here at the start of the fourth quarter?

Dennis Gilmore -- Chief Executive Officer

No. Other than good third quarter and the strength going into fourth quarter, so we've got a very strong pipeline going into the fourth quarter. And we're also optimistic on commercial heading into '19. We're offered in a very strong economy and across some of -- all of our markets we've got strength.

Mark Hughes -- SunTrust Robinson Humphrey -- Analyst

Thank you very much.

Dennis Gilmore -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Mark Seaton -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thanks, Mark.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Mark DeVries with Barclays. Please proceed with your question.

Mark DeVries -- Barclays -- Analyst

Yeah. Staying with the commercial business. The ARPO there was up a fair amount year-over-year. Were you seeing a mix shift toward larger transactions in the quarter? And how does that mix for kind of, larger versus smaller look in your pipeline?

Mark Seaton -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

I wouldn't say we saw like a shift in terms of huge deals, like the million dollar plus premium deals. We're just -- what we're seeing is, we're just seeing a lot of its high quality assets trade hands that our national scope that have -- a lot of them have multi-state portfolio deals we're doing. So we're just -- we're continuing to see a real broad based strength in commercial, and we feel like the pipeline is pretty strong heading into the fourth quarter here.

Mark DeVries -- Barclays -- Analyst

Okay. And I think, Dennis, kind of answered this. But can you give us an update, sorry if I missed this, on where we stand so far quarter-to-date on both the residential purchase and commercial order accounts?

Dennis Gilmore -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, let me take the residential side. We were down 4% on the quarter on transactions, on purchase orders. That trend's going on, continuing into October. Right now, month-to-date, we're down about 5%. So no real difference from the quarter.

I think what's going on right now is the housing market, the purchase market is really, I'll use the word, resetting, recalibrating and probably moving more toward the sellers market to a balanced market. I think we're looking for '19 to have home price depreciation starting to slow down. We anticipate inventory levels going up, probably time on market going up. Because all in all, I think we're moving probably to a more balanced market. But when we go through that transition, we'll probably be choppy. (ph)

The other thing to it, just to make sure that he's clear, we're optimistic going into '19. Let's not forget we're offering in a very strong economy. We've got a wage growth going on, we got a very strong demographics happening but to our favor right now for housing. So while we're probably going through this resetting, we're optimistic going into '19, especially with spring selling season.

Mark DeVries -- Barclays -- Analyst

Okay. And on the higher ARPO and the residential side. Is that just all home price or are you also seeing a bit of a mix shift toward states with just generally higher prices?

Mark Seaton -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Mostly, it's just rising housing prices. We think it might over the next several quarters, you'll start to see your purchase ARPO fall a little bit, simply because housing prices are leveling off, and the fact that when we had raised rates a year ago starts -- some of that is starting to lap. But we're still seeing positive purchase ARPO growth. And it's primarily going to be driven by rising houses prices, not really a mix shift geographically.

Mark DeVries -- Barclays -- Analyst

Okay. Got it. Thank you.

Mark Seaton -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thank you, Mark.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Mackenzie Aron with Zelman & Associates. Please proceed with your question.

Mackenzie Aron -- Zelman & Associates -- Analyst

Thanks. Question just on what we're seeing on the agent revenue side being a little bit weaker than the trend in the direct premium and escrows over the last few quarters. I know there were some changes in California a few quarters ago. So just wanted to kind of dig in on what we're seeing there when those changes should be lapped?

Dennis Gilmore -- Chief Executive Officer

It's happening right now. We were down 14 million, and that's all California. So we continue to reprice California. It was also -- an agent was purchasing in California that impacted us. But we continued to deemphasize California unless we can get the right price points. But I think that trend will probably run itself on the course over the next quarter or two.

Mackenzie Aron -- Zelman & Associates -- Analyst

Okay. That's helpful. And then is there are any update you can provide us just M&A opportunities of agents or smaller -- or on the other side of the businesses in terms of the M&A pipeline as well?

Dennis Gilmore -- Chief Executive Officer

Sure. Yeah. We had a -- we actually had a quite quarter. We were close on a few deals, and were actually built apart on -- with the market changing, again, I'm using the term rebalancing, we just didn't think that the prices were valid at that point, we were ready to do the deal.

So looking forward, I think we'll see better opportunities in '19 as this market goes through this transition. So we've got a lot of excess capital from that perspective. And if the deal makes sense to us and it's the market we'd like to get in or we'll be aggressive.

Mackenzie Aron -- Zelman & Associates -- Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question will come from the line of John Campbell with Stephens Inc. Please proceed with your question.

Carter Trent -- Stephens Inc -- Analyst

Hey, guys. This is Carter Trent taking the place of John Campbell. Thanks for taking my questions. On the residential market, I know we're in bit of a reset stage currently. But when do you expect a shift to buyer's market as for its timing next year. I know you don't have a crystal ball, but if you had to guess, do you think purchase volumes would be down next year?

Dennis Gilmore -- Chief Executive Officer

Hard to call -- hard to make the call right now. I mean quote-unquote resetting is happening right now. So obviously, the key part of the year for us will be the spring selling season. And again, we're optimistic going into that time frame.

Carter Trent -- Stephens Inc -- Analyst

Got it. That's all from me. Thanks.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Bose George with KBW. Please proceed with your question.

Bose George -- KBW -- Analyst

Hey, guys. Good morning.

Dennis Gilmore -- Chief Executive Officer

Good morning.

Bose George -- KBW -- Analyst

Going back to investment income. The math that you've given earlier, the 12 million of investment income reached 25 basis point raise. Is that still good, especially as, I mean, you have this one raise in September, maybe several next year. Can you just talk about how that works whether there's any -- does it diminishes as that moves forward? Thanks.

Mark Seaton -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Well, when you look back over the last year, we've obviously gotten a lot more than 12 million for a few reasons. But going forward, every time the Fed raises 25 basis points, probably more realistic number now is more like 15 million. And the reason it's higher is just because our balances have risen. When we gave that 12 million number a year or so ago, we had a lot fewer balances than we do now.

So it's more like 15 million, assuming that our balances remain constant. And we actually are able to get 25 basis point increase on our deposit rate. So I think 15 million is a more realistic run rate.

Bose George -- KBW -- Analyst

Okay, great. Thanks. And then actually just in terms of your cash balance. It looked like that when up meaningfully . Was there some consolidation on to the balance sheet or it was something else happening there?

Mark Seaton -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

It's really just a timing. We had some very large deposits that just carried over quarter end, large commercial transactions we were closing. And so it looks like we have a lot of cash on the balance sheets, which we did, 2.2 billion as of September 30. But that's come down even close quarter. So we really have to deal with the timing of in and outs.

Bose George -- KBW -- Analyst

Okay. And then just actually going back to the M&A question. Just on the data side. Is there -- are there things you are looking at that could complement what you've done in terms of those acquisitions?

Dennis Gilmore -- Chief Executive Officer

There are. They're actually a couple of deals right now we're looking at in the pipeline. So we'll see how they play out. But there are -- we continue to look at data deals.

Bose George -- KBW -- Analyst

Okay, great. Thank you.

Dennis Gilmore -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. (Operator Instructions) Our next question comes from the line of Geoffrey Dunn with Dowling & Partners. Please proceed with your question.

Geoffrey Dunn -- Dowling & Partners -- Analyst

Thanks. Good morning.

Dennis Gilmore -- Chief Executive Officer

Good morning.

Geoffrey Dunn -- Dowling & Partners -- Analyst

I wanted to follow up on the commercial question from before. It seems like a trend we've seen over several quarters has been maybe a bit of a slowdown in closing rates and very strong growth in the ARPO. And so I'm curious if there's a -- just a general composition shift in the marketplace or something else going on? Because it's not unique to First American, but the growth really is being driven by these ARPO numbers versus the closing results. So I was hoping you can maybe expand on that a little bit from an industry standpoint, if anything's really changing in commercial?

Mark Seaton -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Well, Geoff, just to maybe go a little bit deeper on there. I mean, we look at kind of the stratification of the size of the deals that we close in commercial. And when you look -- like the large deals we close -- if we're getting a $1 million a premium, that's a very large transaction. We had four of those these quarter. A year ago we had five. So we're not only seeing growth, as I mentioned earlier. What we are seeing though is, when you look at deals in the $250,000 (ph) to $1 million range, this quarter we had 53 of those deals and a year ago it was 39. So we have seen an increase in, -- like I said before, the higher quality transactions, not the mega deals, but a higher frequency of kind of, the middle-range deals that's driving our ARPO up.

Geoffrey Dunn -- Dowling & Partners -- Analyst

And what type of a deal is like the 250,000 to 1 million type of range?

Mark Seaton -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Just all -- yes, all kinds of commercial properties. I mean, I don't have a great answer for that. But there I'd just say the mid-market is continuing to be really strong. We've seen softness in New York, which we've talked about, but a lot of our other offices are doing strong in terms of types of properties, whether it's industrial or hotels or multi-family. Again, we're seeing broad-based strength across all of the asset classes.

Geoffrey Dunn -- Dowling & Partners -- Analyst

All right. So this is really kind of mid-mark general -- mid-market general?

Mark Seaton -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yeah.

Geoffrey Dunn -- Dowling & Partners -- Analyst

Okay. And then Dennis, I know you typically, you gave gist of the first three weeks of purchase. But I assume as -- kind of a similar number overall for the first three weeks kind of sequentially down mid-single digit for overall orders?

Dennis Gilmore -- Chief Executive Officer

On purchase, yeah, we're down 5%. So tracking really last quarter.

Geoffrey Dunn -- Dowling & Partners -- Analyst

But overall, probably, a similar number for a refi of the two?

Mark Seaton -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Refis were running about 800 a day, Geoff.

Dennis Gilmore -- Chief Executive Officer

Geoff, we've dropped from about 900 to 800 a day in the quarter. But again, it's kind of volatile right now. I would point out though, Geoff, on refinance, it's right now less than 9% of our direct revenue, but it's not a significant contributor of profitability.

Geoffrey Dunn -- Dowling & Partners -- Analyst

That's why kind of I assume that the overall number is probably similar to the purchase, so, OK.

Dennis Gilmore -- Chief Executive Officer

Obviously, we hope it stabilizes soon, but it is what it is.

Geoffrey Dunn -- Dowling & Partners -- Analyst

All right.

Dennis Gilmore -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Mark Seaton -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thanks, Geoff.

Operator

Thank you. There are no additional questions at this time. That concludes this morning's call. We'd like to remind listeners that today's call will be available for replay on the company's website or by dialing (877) 660-6853 or (201) 612-7415 and enter the conference ID 13683867.

The company would like to thank you for your participation. This concludes today's conference call, you may now disconnect.

Duration: 24 minutes

Call participants:

Craig Barberio -- Vice President Investor Relations

Dennis Gilmore -- Chief Executive Officer

Mark Seaton -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Jason Deleeuw -- Piper Jaffray -- Analyst

Mark Hughes -- SunTrust Robinson Humphrey -- Analyst

Mark DeVries -- Barclays -- Analyst

Mackenzie Aron -- Zelman & Associates -- Analyst

Carter Trent -- Stephens Inc -- Analyst

Bose George -- KBW -- Analyst

Geoffrey Dunn -- Dowling & Partners -- Analyst

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