LOS ANGELES (AP) — Insurance company shares were mixed Tuesday amid speculation that the industry might see premiums increase given the slate of recent natural disasters and uncertainty over the upcoming hurricane season.
Major earthquakes this year in New Zealand and Japan are expected to translate into billions of losses for insurers, which could make some insurers pull back on offering coverage or re-evaluate how they price risk. That could lead to higher insurance costs.
In a research note Tuesday, Goldman Sachs & Co. analyst Michael Nannizzi said he doesn’t yet see a “hard market,” industry lingo for when there is more demand for insurance coverage than supply, driving premiums higher.
However, Nannizzi says, given the recent catastrophes and uncertain outcome from the hurricane season, which begins June 1, “we think a hard market is closer than it was only a few months ago.”
The analyst said if pricing does rise, it’ll likely happen first in the global property market. If that spills into other types of insurance, Nannizzi expects it will happen slowly with the domestic casualty insurance market being among the last to see price changes.
That means insurers such as Ireland-based XL Group PLC could be among those in the best position to benefit, given its size and significant base of global property exposure, Nannizzi said.
The analyst upgraded XL Group to a “Buy” from “Neutral,” saying the company is the most likely candidate to see earnings improve from higher pricing.
Nannizzi also shifted Greenwich, Conn.-based W.R. Berkley Corp. to “Neutral” from “Sell.” But he lowered New York-based The Travelers Cos., Inc. to “Sell” from “Neutral,” saying he sees limited potential for the shares to go higher from a change in pricing.
Among the insurers to post stock price gains on Tuesday:
XL Group ended regular trading up 49 cents, or 2.1 percent, to $23.84; Travelers rose 35 cents to $59.26; W.R. Berkley added 39 cents to $31.34; Aon Corp. rose 14 cents to $52.55; Willis Group Holdings Public Ltd. gained 11 cents to $39.44; Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. rose 13 cents to $30.40; Prudential Financial Inc. gained 8 cents to $60.60; Brown & Brown Inc. rose 18 cents to $25.23; and, Marsh & McLennan Cos. Inc. gained 10 cents to $29.92.
Elsewhere in the sector, Aflac Inc. shares closed down 55 cents to $52.15 during the regular session, while shares in MetLife Inc. slipped 41 cents to 44.41.