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Property/casualty prices rise, M&A outlook strong: Panel

S&P Global Ratings

NEW YORK — Pricing is increasing in the property/casualty insurance sector and consolidation is likely to continue despite high valuations, experts say.

“The outlook from a pricing perspective in commercial lines is pretty good right now,” Brian Meredith, managing director in New York with UBS Group AG, said Wednesday at the S&P Global Ratings 35th Annual Insurance Conference in New York.

The expectation for pricing over the next six months is “modestly higher than the last six months,” Mr. Meredith said, adding a supply/demand imbalance in the excess and surplus lines arena is leading to “high single-digit and double-digit price increases.”

“Over the past couple of months, we’ve grown incrementally more constructive on the sector, especially around some of the pricing commentary that’s come through,” said Robert Hauff, managing director in Charlotte, North Carolina, for Wells Fargo Securities LLC.

Premium growth in 2019 is expected to be 4% to 5%, according to John Iten, a director in New York with S&P Global Ratings.

The outlook for the insurance sector is stable, meaning an equal amount of positive and negative ratings actions are expected, Mr. Iten said, adding that overall S&P is expecting very few ratings actions.

“The key factor in our rating is the level of capital adequacy in the industry,” Mr. Iten said. The other main factor, he said, is the “relatively benign economic outlook over the next two to three years. The macroeconomic fundamentals look quite good,” with fairly stable GDP growth of about 2%, he said.

Continued consolidation is expected in the sector, according to Mr. Iten, who called insurance “a mature” industry.

In a low-interest-rate environment, property/casualty is one of the few industries in financial that is not completely dependent on interest rates, Mr. Meredith said. “So, you typically see money flows into property/casualty insurance when you get a declining interest rate environment.”

“I think the long-term outlook for M&A in property/casualty is quite good,” Mr. Hauff said, given the low organic revenue growth and excess capital in the business. The next 18 to 24 months, however, may be “pretty slow,” as companies focus on organic growth as pricing firms.

Property/casualty valuations are near historic highs, Mr. Meredith said, with no signs of abating. “I’m not expecting any material corrections on valuations,” he said. “In fact, they could actually migrate a little higher.”









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