Friday, 3 May 2013
RSA results bolstered by emerging markets, Europe flat
UK insurer RSA Insurance Group continued the feel-good factor in the latest European and global insurance and reinsurance reporting season as it reported what it described as an 'encouraging start' to 2013.
The group reported premium growth of 7% in the first quarter and net asset value up 5%. It said that it has 'continued confidence' in delivering a combined operating ratio of better than 95% and return on equity of 10-12% for 2013.
Risk managers will be pleased to hear the good news from RSA along with the mass of other results published recently that strongly suggest another year of flat to slightly hardening commercial insurance pricing at worst.
But RSA along with others is talking tough about its approach to the still highly competitive western European market and vows not to sacrifice profit for volume.
Simon Lee, Group Chief Executive of RSA, commented: "The growth in net written premiums reflected good customer retention together with continued robust rating action. Growth has been led by Canada which has benefited from the 2012 acquisition of L'Union Canadienne but has also delivered strong organic growth of 7%."
As has been the case across the sector during the global downturn since 2008, emerging markets provided a strong source of growth. For RSA these markets grew by 16% benefiting from acquisitions in Argentina in 2012 and 'good' performances across Asia, central and eastern Europe and the Middle East.
More mature markets were not so exciting for RSA as with most of its rivals.
Scandinavian premiums were 'flat' and UK and western European business grew 1% as the group said that it continues to focus on improving performance in the UK and in Italy.
"I remain confident in our ability to achieve our targets for 2013 of good premium growth, a combined ratio of better than 95%, and return on equity of 10-12%," said Mr Lee.
The group's Global Specialty Lines business has grown by 4% at constant exchange to £414m with 'good' growth in risk managed and construction and engineering business, reported RSA.
Mr Lee said that RSA remains focused on an ongoing 'active management' of its portfolio to support future profitability.
"Ten years ago the group operated in around 50 countries. Since then, the group's focus has narrowed and RSA now operates a well diversified portfolio in 31 countries. Where we do not see a route to achieve target returns on capital, we take the necessary action," explained Mr Lee.
"As a result, we exited the Czech Republic in 2012 and completed the sale of our business in the Dutch Caribbean in April 2013. We continue to expect the business to grow both organically and through selective bolt-on acquisitions," he added.
Mr Lee said that in 2013 RSA would be focused on the integration of the acquisitions made in 2012 in Canada and Argentina.
He said that he is confident in the 'progress' made in UK commercial business.
Premiums were flat at £396m, which he said reflected actions taken in 2012 to respond to 'challenges' in the UK commercial market and its 'continued underwriting discipline' in 2013.
Property and liability lines were down 2% and 3% respectively, which Mr Lee said reflected a continued focus on profitability over volume.
Marine premiums were down 6% following a particularly strong first quarter in 2012, which included some one-off premiums.
"We expect modest growth in targeted areas in Marine during the remainder of 2013 reflecting soft market conditions and our increased focus on profitability. In UK Commercial overall, we continue to expect
profitability to improve as our actions take effect," said Mr Lee.
In western Europe, European specialty premiums of £80m were up by 10% driven by targeted growth in France and the Netherlands, said RSA.
In Ireland, premiums grew by 3% to £99m. Italian premiums of £47m were flat at constant exchange as the premium base 'stabilises'
following actions the group has taken to return the business to profitability.
"We remain on track to be trading on a break even basis in Italy by the end of the year," said Mr Lee.