NU Online News Service, Feb. 18, 12:42 p.m. EST

Based on its 2010 results and trends, Nationwide said it is seeing promising signs of an economic recovery.

The Columbus, Ohio-based property and life insurer recorded 2010 net income of nearly $960 million in 2010, a 34 percent increase over 2009.

“We saw momentum in retention and new writings in the fourth quarter,” said Mark Thresher, chief financial officer at Nationwide. At the end of three quarters, Nationwide said economic conditions continued to put a strain on automobile, homeowners and commercial insurance growth.

Mr. Thresher said Nationwide observed “some improvement” in exposure for commercial lines, but there is “still a long way to go.” Hopefully, factors driven by the economy—reduced workforces, for example—“have bottomed out” and will now trend positively, he added.

Like last quarter, Mr. Thresher said Nationwide grew its employer-sponsored retirement savings and insurance products. Sales of variable annuities, fixed life insurance and mutual funds drove a 10 percent increase in financial services sales, and he said the business is anticipated to continue to be a source of growth in 2011.

Nationwide’s national approach to advertising, featuring “The World’s Greatest Spokesperson,” has had an effect on the “robust growth” of 13 percent in direct and affinity partnerships, Mr. Thresher said.

Ads promoting the insurer’s “vanishing deductible” have created a “nice pick-up” in new writings, he said.

The company’s affinity relationship with NASCAR, complete with ads featuring Dale Earnhardt Jr., continues to generate results, he added.

For the year, net operating income for the P&C segment increased to $655 million compared to $328 million in 2009. The insurer experienced lower non-weather-related claims and lower payments on prior year claims.