Hartford Q4 Profit Down 79%; Splitting Life, P&C Cos. Challenging

Liam E. McGee, CEO of The Hartford Liam E. McGee, CEO of The Hartford

NU Online News Service, Feb. 8, 8:27 a.m. EST

The Hartford’s 2011 fourth-quarter net income plummeted 79 percent to $127 million on above normal catastrophe and non-cat losses, low interest rates and volatility in the capital markets.

Net income for the year fell 61 percent to $662 million.

Liam E. McGee, president and chief executive officer, says the property and casualty commercial market saw firming “across the board,” with a 7 percent increase in middle markets.

The acceleration of rate increases during the last quarter of 2011 “exceeded loss costs for most lines,” McGee says during a conference call.

The company’s results in its commercial markets segment was hurt by higher workers’ compensation loss costs, which drove up the combined ratio in the segment to 101.5 (excluding catastrophes and prior-year development), Hartford says.

Income in the fourth quarter was reduced by net prior-year reserve strengthening of $64 million in commercial markets, consumer markets and other operations. Hartford upped reserves in the workers’ compensation line of business for the 2010 accident year.

Christopher J. Swift, chief financial officer, says the company’s adjusted reserve estimates for 2010 and 2011 are holding up.

Hartford also strengthened current accident-year reserves by $57 million, it says.

Results were more favorable in the company’s consumer markets segment, which recorded fourth-quarter net income of $85 million compared to $30 million during the same period in 2010. The combined ratio here was 93 from 96.8 in the 2010 fourth quarter.

New business during the fourth quarter in consumer markets grew 21 percent compared to the same time in 2010 due to Hartford’s relationship with AARP.

Much of the talk during the earnings conference call centered on apparent inquiries Hartford has received on the feasibility of splitting its life and P&C companies. Swift says Hartford has been approached with the idea in the past, and "took a fresh look" at it with advisers.

McGee says the “challenges [of splitting the operations] are significant at the present time.” During the presentation Swift outlined several of the challenges, including the foreseen difficulty in maintaining competitive ratings while setting apart $6.8 billion in debt. The P&C companies would have to assume two-thirds of the debt.

Hartford management is performing what McGee described as an “objective and pragmatic” review of the company—“thoroughly and rigorously” looking at ways to deliver shareholder value.

“We don’t believe the current stock price reflects the value of the company,” he says.

Within the current environment, McGee says Hartford is “managing the levers it can control,” increasing enterprise risk management efforts to make the company more efficient.

Updated at 10:46 a.m. with content from earnings conference call.

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