Catastrophes, Reserves Halve Liberty Mutual Q4 Earnings

NU Online News Service, March 6, 12:25 p.m. EST

Net income at Liberty Mutual Insurance fell nearly 51 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011 and about 78 percent for the year on catastrophe losses and reserve strengthening.

Liberty Mutual fourth quarter net income stood at $284 million, down from $576 for the same period in 2010. The combined ratio for the period was 104.2, up 5 points from the fouth quarter of 2010.

“Another quarter, another catastrophe,” says David H. Long, president and chief executive officer of Liberty Mutual, during a conference call.

During the last three months of 2011, the company suffered $90 million in losses related to the flooding in Thailand. Most of the loss is attributable to a Lloyd’s syndicate. Local companies took about $20 million in losses, Long says.

Liberty Mutual recorded a total of $234 million in catastrophe losses during the fourth quarter, compared to $198 million for the prior year same period.

The company posted net income of $365 million for full year 2011, down drastically from $1.68 billion in 2010.

Results included hundreds of millions in reserve strengthening. After a “ground-up reserve study” Liberty Mutual strengthened asbestos-related reserves $294 million in 2011.

Additionally, a re-estimation of current accident-year loss reserves resulted in a net incurred loss of $121 million in the fourth quarter.

“I’m pretty happy it’s no longer 2011,” Long says.

“At least, I thought so until last weekend,” he says, referring to the severe storms and tornadoes experienced by a dozen states.

Good news for the Boston-based insurer included increases of 10.6 percent and 6.8 percent in net written premium during the fourth quarter and year, respectively.

Long says Liberty Mutual continues to see favorable growth trends in domestic personal lines, with rate increases of more than 3 percent in auto and 5.5 percent in homeowners.

In commercial lines there is also a general trend in rate increases, led by double-digit jumps in workers’ compensation, he notes.

Premiums in the company’s Liberty International Underwriters unit were up 8.3 percent during the fourth quarter and internationally premiums were up 10 percent during the same three months, led by growth in Portugal, Poland and Turkey, Long says.

Business outside the U.S. now makes up about 23 percent of Liberty Mutual’s consolidated premium, says Long.

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