Triple-I Chief Economist: P/C Industry Strong, Despite Surplus Drop

Despite its largest-ever quarterly decline in policyholder surplus, the property/casualty insurance industry remained profitable in the first quarter of 2020 and remains financially strong, according to a commentary by Triple-I’s senior vice president and chief economist, Dr. Steven Weisbart.

Dr. Steven Weisbart

Policyholder surplus – the amount insurers hold in reserve to ensure that they can keep their promises to pay policyholder claims – dropped by $75.9 billion in the quarter as the stock market suffered a major downturn, according to a report by Verisk, a data and analytics provider, and the American Property Casualty Insurance Association (APCIA).

Since then, the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to affect many insurers and will likely impact underwriting results for the second quarter and the rest of the year.

“Thanks to continued premium growth and positive investment results, the industry turned in a profitable first quarter,” Weisbart says. “Most of its investment income comes from high-quality corporate and municipal bonds, which are not as volatile as investments in stock.”

The industry’s combined ratio – a widely used profitability metric – was 94.9 in the first quarter of 2020, compared with 95.6 for the same period in 2019. A lower ratio indicates better performance.

Combined ratios for insurers writing commercial lines coverage (excluding mortgage and financial guaranty) deteriorated 1.3 percentage points, to 97.7 percent. Personal lines insurers’ ratio improved 2.7 percentage points, to 92.2 percent. Insurers writing balanced books of business posted a combined ratio of 95.8, 1.3 percentage points better than in the prior year’s first quarter.