Travelers Profit More Than Triples as Catastrophe Costs Fall

Jan 21, 2014 7:40 am ET

(Updates with share gain and book value in the fifth paragraph, catastrophe costs in the seventh.)

Jan. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Travelers Cos., the property- casualty insurer in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, said fourth-quarter profit more than tripled as claims costs from natural disasters fell a year after Superstorm Sandy.

Net income rose to $988 million, or $2.70 a share, from $304 million, or 78 cents, a year earlier, the New York-based company said today in a statement. Operating profit, which excludes some investment results, was $2.68 a share, beating the $2.16 average estimate of 25 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

Chief Executive Officer Jay Fishman, 61, boosted prices after storms increased claims costs and low interest rates reduced income from bond investments. Calmer-than-average weather in 2013 helped buoy profit after Sandy, the storm that lashed the U.S. Northeast in October 2012 and caused about $35 billion in insured losses industrywide.

“That was clearly a big impact for a lot of insurance carriers,” Matt Carletti, an analyst at JMP Securities, said in a phone interview before results were announced. “This fourth quarter certainly is the other end of the spectrum.”

Travelers gained 2.3 percent to $88.50 at 7:13 a.m. in New York before the start of regular trading. The insurer’s book value per share, a measure of assets minus liabilities, rose to $70.15 at the end of December from $68.15 three months earlier.

Hurricane Season

A quiet Atlantic hurricane season in 2013 reduced catastrophe costs. Insurers shouldered $12.8 billion in claims from the costliest disasters in the U.S. last year, “far below” the $29.4 billion average from 2000 to 2012, Munich Re, the world’s largest reinsurer, said this month in a report.

Catastrophes cost Travelers $53 million before tax in the quarter, compared with $1.05 billion a year earlier, when the company faced claims from Sandy.

Travelers’ results are often seen as a bellwether for the commercial-insurance industry, because of the company’s size and early reporting date. Fishman has been among the most aggressive at pushing price increases and buying back stock to boost return on equity. He said last year that Travelers was a “no-excuses company” that would take action in the face of challenges to its profitability.

The calmer hurricane season allowed the insurer to increase repurchases in the third quarter. In October, Travelers’ board authorized an additional $5 billion in buybacks.

Full-year profit climbed to $3.67 billion from $2.47 billion in 2012. Travelers repurchased $1 billion of its own stock in the fourth quarter.

--Editors: Dan Reichl, Steve Dickson