Is it luck or talent for the insurance industry? Alirt Insurance Research, in its 2015 review, notes its composite of insurers posted a combined ratio under 100 for the third year in a row. It's the first time since the 1970s the industry has shown three back-to-back years of underwriting profit.

David Paul, a principal at Windsor, Conn.-based Alirt, says two factors cannot be overlooked. The first: lower catastrophe losses over the past three years compared with 2011 and 2012. "Certainly cat losses are helping," Paul says. "The numbers [combined ratio] are close enough to 100 where if you put a couple of points on for cats, it goes over 100. So I would definitely say the three light years of cats helps."

The second factor involves reserve releases. While the Alirt composite strengthened reserves in 2015 for the first time since 2005, reserve releases helped shave points off of the combined ratio in 2013 and 2014.

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