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In Brief


Pa. Blues, Highmark plan merger

Pittsburgh-based Highmark Inc. and Philadelphia-based Independence Blue Cross announced last week that they will merge to create the largest health insurer in Pennsylvania, providing health care coverage to about 8 million people. Formal filings for state and federal regulatory approvals will begin this month.

Flagstone IPO raises $175.5M

Bermuda-based Flagstone Reinsurance Holdings Ltd. raised $175.5 million in its initial public offering of stock, giving the company an initial market capitalization of about $1.1 billion. The reinsurer intends to use the new capital to increase its underwriting capacity. In the offering last week, 13 million Flagstone shares sold for $13.50 each. Shares closed Friday at $13.48.

AXIS to acquire Media/Professional

AXIS Capital Holdings Ltd. has agreed to purchase Media/Professional Insurance, with plans to grow the managing general underwriter. Under the deal, Bermuda-based AXIS will acquire the assets and operations of Kansas City, Mo.-based Media/Professional from its parent, Aon Underwriting Mangers, a division of Chicago-based broker Aon Corp. The transaction, terms of which were not disclosed, is expected to close during the second quarter of 2007.

PBGC takes over plan at auto parts maker

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. is taking over a pension plan sponsored by bankrupt auto parts manufacturer Collins & Aikman Corp. The Collins & Aikman plan, which has about 21,000 participants, is 58% funded, with $434 million in liabilities and $253 million in assets. The PBGC expects to be liable for about $161 million of the $181 million funding shortfall.

GAO urges better OSHA disaster planning

Better planning would help the Occupational Safety and Health Administration protect workers responding to disasters such as 2005's Hurricane Katrina, according to a report issued last week by the Government Accountability Office. The report recommended that the departments of Labor and Homeland Security should direct the heads of both OSHA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to work together to accomplish such goals as deciding the types and magnitude of disasters in which OSHA will be involved.

Bell Canada to phase out retiree benefits by 2018

Bell Canada Inc. will begin eliminating retiree health care, dental, vision and life insurance benefits for future retirees starting in 2012, the company said. The Montreal-based telecommunications giant said it would phase out these benefits over the next 10 years. Eligible employees retiring before Jan. 1, 2012, will continue to receive the benefits, while employees retiring between Jan. 1, 2012, and Jan. 1, 2017, will be entitled to company-paid medical coverage until they reach age 65. After Jan. 1, 2017, retiring employees will not be entitled to company-paid benefits but will have access to optional health plans.

Best reports drop in impaired insurers

Fifteen property/casualty insurers became financially impaired in 2006 despite the industry's record results last year, according to a study by Oldwick, N.J.-based A.M. Best Co. Inc. But the impairment rate of 1-in-233 companies was half the historical rate for the past 38 years, according to the report, "15 Property/casualty Insurers Identified as Impaired for 2006." Best designates an insurer as financially impaired as of the first official regulatory action taken by an insurance department, which can include supervision, rehabilitation or liquidation, among other actions. Severe hurricane losses in 2004 and 2005 were the leading cause of the impairments.

Aon launches global risk consulting unit

Aon Corp. has launched a risk consulting, captive management and risk engineering unit called Aon Global Risk Consulting. AGRC is a combination of Aon's former captive services group and the company's risk consulting and risk engineering operations. The change follows the January launch of Aon Global, which brought together several of Aon's global operations. Stephen Cross is chief executive officer of the unit and Philip Stamp is chairman.

Best downgrades P&I club to B++

A.M. Best Co. Inc. has downgraded its financial strength ratings of The Steamship Mutual Underwriting Assn. (Bermuda) Ltd. and London-based The Steamship Mutual Underwriting Assn. Ltd. to B++ from A-. The rating action against the Bermuda protection and indemnity club reflects "potential volatility" in its "risk-adjusted capitalization, the continuing challenge the club faces in underwriting profitability and its reliance on investment income," Oldwick, N.J.-based Best said in a statement.