The tide may have finally turned for multiline insurance behemoth American International Group
I'm talking about a literal tide here; after all, no major storms have hit U.S. shores as hurricane season winds down, sparing AIG and other insurers from the massive claims the paid last year, when Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma devastated many southern regions. The fortunate absence of catastrophes contributed to third-quarter general insurance operating income of $2.6 billion, versus a $208 million loss in last year's quarter, and helped drive the overall combined ratio to 89.1, down from 112.1 last year. A ratio of less than 100 signals that an insurer made an underwriting profit.
Better yet, investors are becoming more confident that AIG is regaining its reputation as one of the fastest, most consistent insurance firms around. Its status as the largest, most globally diversified insurer has not faltered, but the company hit a rough patch, losing longtime CEO Hank Greenberg amid accounting inquiries and accusations of other improprieties. Management quickly embarked on a road to recovery, and after a couple of quarters of solid earnings results, AIG is returning to the good graces of Wall Street.
General insurance net premiums written grew 8.8%, suggesting that new business trends have recovered. Domestic and foreign life insurance and retirement services also reported premium growth, and higher interest rates are causing higher net investment income. Asset management and financial service results suffered a bit but account for a smaller proportion of AIG's total business, which is dominated by property and casualty, life, and other insurance offerings.
More than half of AIG's revenue stems from the U.S., but other regions such as the Far East are growing faster and already account for the bulk of life insurance sales. They're also being counted on for most of the company's growth potential. This international focus, combined with underwriting savvy and a powerful distribution network, have historically allowed AIG to grow faster than peers such as AXA
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Fool contributor Ryan Fuhrmann has no financial interest in any company mentioned. The Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy. Feel free to email him with feedback or to discuss any companies mentioned further.