Greenberg Counts on Cookbook, Faults ‘Lousy’ Brazil Policies

Jul 23, 2014 11:24 am ET

(Updates with CEO comment in the 10th paragraph.)

July 23 (Bloomberg) -- Ace Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Evan Greenberg said the insurer’s formula for integrating companies gives him confidence that he can handle risks in emerging markets, even as he faulted Brazilian leaders for “lousy” economic policies.

The insurer relies on what Greenberg called a “cookbook” to guide risk-management, compliance and auditing decisions as it grows through acquisitions, he said. The Zurich-based insurer plans to buy Itau Unibanco Holding SA’s high-risk insurance business in a Brazil deal announced July 4 for about $685 million, and also expanded in nations such as Mexico and Thailand.

“You grow where the opportunity is and where the need is the greatest,” Greenberg said today on a conference call. “Of course there is risk around this.”

Greenberg was responding to a remark from Cliff Gallant, an analyst at Nomura Holdings Inc., that it seems like it would be difficult to “execute on those deals long-term” in Brazil and Thailand. The CEO was asked separately in the call about the prospects for Brazil’s economy, and responded that he was thinking about the long term when he made the Itau deal.

“I don’t see Brazil in recession, I see Brazil with very slow growth,” he said. “Brazil is nothing like Argentina,” the nation in a dispute with bondholders as it negotiates to avoid a default next week.

Economists in a weekly Brazil central bank survey published July 21 reduced their 2014 growth forecast to 0.97 percent, the eighth straight cut and the lowest estimate since the bank started publishing the data in January 2013. Greenberg said the country benefits from agriculture, energy development and finance, while being burdened by politicians’ approach.

‘Important Election’

“What it has is lousy government policies and an inability to embrace another way of deregulation,” Greenberg said. “It has an important election coming in October and hopefully they do the right thing because that could be tremendous for growth in Brazil.”

Support for Brazil President Dilma Rousseff slipped to 38 percent from 39 percent in June, according to an Ibope poll taken this month. Aecio Neves, who vows to contain spending and slow inflation, was running second with 22 percent.

Rousseff’s popularity has waned amid slowing economic growth, consumer confidence near a five-year low, and inflation that breached the official 6.5 percent ceiling of Brazil’s target range in June.

Ace doesn’t endorse candidates or get involved in local politics, Greenberg said in an e-mailed statement after the conference call.

‘Wealth Creation’

“Doing the right thing, in my judgment, means this: That whichever candidate is chosen, they endorse and embrace as part of their platform and administration economic policies that recognize the source of wealth creation, and that they put in place, therefore, policies that will be conducive to private- sector development.”

Greenberg’s company climbed 1.6 percent to $104.94 at 11:19 a.m. in New York trading after reporting second-quarter profit late yesterday that beat analysts’ estimates. The stock has gained 1.4 percent this year, compared with the 1.5 percent advance of the 85-company Bloomberg World Insurance Index.

--With assistance from Noah Buhayar in New York.