Whatever complaints you might have about Progressive (NYSE:PGR), you can't say that it keeps its shareholders in the dark. In fact, this leading auto insurance company actually reports abbreviated financial results every month. And though I'd never suggest that month-by-month results are all that helpful in assessing a stock, it does give a Fool leave to take a look at this strong company.

I don't think there's any such thing as a "normal" segment of the insurance industry. Whether it's life insurance, auto insurance, reinsurance, or malpractice insurance, they all have their little quirks. With auto insurance, you have the advantage that just about everybody is required to have it, offset by the fact that there's a lot of competition and that competition has historically led to ups and downs in the sector as companies loosen and tighten their pricing discipline to chase business or shore it up.

So, how's Progressive doing?

Month Growth in Net Premiums Written Growth in EPS Combined Ratio (Year-Over-Year Change)
March 1% 18% 83.3 (1.5 point improvement)
April 4% 10% 85.9 (0.6 point decrease)
May 3% 2% 86.7 (0.9 point decrease)

On that basis alone, you wouldn't be surprised to hear that some analysts are concerned about the combination of slowing premium growth, more reliance on investment income for earnings growth, and a reversion to more normal loss experiences (which will mean worse combined ratios).

You've also probably noticed that the industry is advertising a lot more -- in fact, it's spending money like beer or cereal companies. And when GEICO (owned by BerkshireHathaway (NYSE:BRKa) (NYSE:BRKb) and Allstate (NYSE:ALL) spend money, Progressive needs to as well.

For all of the risks, though, Progressive is still a very good insurance company. The only trouble is that it's not a very cheap insurance company. But there is a trade-off that all investors have to make: Do you want solid, pricier operators like Progressive and ProAssurance (NYSE:PRA), or do you want to take a flyer on riskier but potentially cheaper stocks like AIG (NYSE:AIG) or XL Capital (NYSE:XL)?

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