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Beazley says nothing insurmountable in Brexit

Brexit roulette

(Reuters) — Beazley PLC, the first Lloyd’s of London insurer to report results this year, changed its tune on Brexit on Thursday, saying Britain’s departure from the European Union should not present any “insurmountable challenges.”

Beazley shares rose 5%, topping London’s mid-cap index after its results showed a smaller hit to 2018 profit from hurricane, typhoon and wildfire claims than investors had feared.

The company, part of the oldest insurance market in the world, warned last July that a “hard” Brexit could prove very expensive for the insurance sector and said there had to be a transition period.

On Thursday, Beazley Chief Executive Andrew Horton told Reuters that over 60% of its revenue comes from the United States and would not be hit by Brexit, and that it could now write business through a Brussels subsidiary of Lloyd’s.

“We feel we’re well placed for almost any sort of Brexit,” he said.

The insurer reported a 12% rise, to $2.62 billion, in 2018 gross premiums written. Pretax profit more than halved to $76.4 million pounds on the back of another hefty year of catastrophe claims, but was still higher than the $69.8 million market consensus provided by the company.

Rising interest rates last year in the United States hurt investment yields as the market value of the firm’s bonds declined. Beazley’s bond portfolio was worth $3.5 billion in July.

The U.S. Federal Reserve, however, last month signaled that its three-year drive to tighten monetary policy might be at an end, supporting bond prices.

“2018 was not good for us, but now that it has happened, we get higher interest yields,” finance chief Martin Bride said.

The company said it saw opportunities to raise its premium rates by high single digits of percent after reporting $105 million in costs from last year’s hurricanes and typhoons and $40 million in claims from the California wildfires.

Beazley said that 2018 was only “slightly less eventful” after 2017, when the industry faced record insurance losses of more than $135 billion from hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires.

It reported a combined ratio, a measure of underwriting profitability, of 98% for 2018 compared with 99% last year. A level below 100% indicates an underwriting profit.


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