JERSEY CITY, N.J., July 26, 2021 -- Private property/casualty insurers in the United States saw their net income after taxes increase in the first quarter of 2021 from a year earlier, while their combined ratio – a key measure of underwriting profitability – worsened, according to a new report from Verisk, a leading global data analytics provider, and the American Property Casualty Insurance Association.
Insurers’ net income after taxes increased to $20 billion in the first quarter of 2021, from $17.9 billion in the first quarter of 2020. Growth was fueled, in part, by an increase in realized capital gains and a modest rise in earned premiums from a year earlier.
However, insurers' overall and underwriting profitability deteriorated. Insurers’ combined ratio—a key measure of losses and other underwriting expenses per dollar of premium—worsened to 96.1% for the first quarter 2021 from 94.9% in the first quarter of 2020. Insurers also saw a modest dip in their annualized rate of return on average policyholders' surplus to 8.7% in first quarter of 2021, from 8.8% a year earlier.
Extreme Events Reduce Underwriting Gains
The first quarter of 2021 was notable for the significant catastrophe losses and loss adjustment expenses (LLAE), especially from severe winter storms in Texas. Insurers experienced $16.3 billion in net catastrophe LLAE for the quarter, up sharply from $6 billion in the first quarter of last year.
The industry’s overall LLAE grew 5.3% to $111.1 billion, other underwriting expenses rose 1.3% to $45.7 billion, and policyholder dividends increased to $1.2 billion. With a modest 2.3% growth in earned premiums, insurers reported $3.3 billion in net underwriting gains for the quarter—a 46.7% decrease from the $6.2 billion for first quarter of 2020. The jump in catastrophe LLAE was partially offset by a decline in other LLAE and by more favorable LLAE reserve development than in 2020, helping insurers avoid underwriting losses.
“While the insurance industry’s net income grew significantly in the first quarter of 2021, underwriting results suffered, due in part to severe weather in Texas,” said Neil Spector, president of ISO at Verisk. “Those catastrophe losses are a stark reminder that even as we emerge from the pandemic, challenges may lie ahead. Precision underwriting, enhanced loss controls, and comprehensive risk management and resilience strategies remain critical for insurers. Robust data and advanced analytics can be force multipliers for insurers, helping them achieve a more accurate understanding of the risk environment to support their strategic decisions.”
“The insurance industry survived severe pandemic challenges in 2020 only to start 2021 with a record freeze in Texas, extreme tornadoes and floods, an unprecedented heatwave in the West fueling intense wildfires that are on track to exceed 2020’s record, and expectations of above-average hurricane activity this year,” said Robert Gordon, APCIA senior vice president, policy, research and international. “Reserve releases for prior years’ business accounted for virtually all Q1 underwriting gains, while slowing premium growth was unable to keep pace with spiking losses and loss expenses. Industry statutory surplus gained significantly as investments improved in the year following the precipitous decline at the end of Q1 2020. But insurers now face significantly increasing inflationary costs, including medical care, auto repair, building materials and labor all exceeding the underlying consumer price index. Long-term pandemic liabilities are also still unclear, with continued growth in COVID variants globally and unknown medical costs for long-haul COVID victims.”
View the full report from Verisk and APCIA.