LA Private

QBE anticipates strong first half performance

Major insurer QBE (ASX:QBE) is poised for a solid first half result when it reports in August, judging by its March quarter trading update on Friday.

QBE revealed higher gross premiums, a reasonable outcome on costs associated with major catastrophes (especially storms), and a higher return from its investment portfolio.

CEO Andrew Horton told the QBE AGM on Friday that the company has “had a good start to the year. Markets remain supportive, with continued momentum in gross written premium, while underwriting performance is tracking to plan.”

He and the company reaffirmed full-year guidance of constant currency gross written premium growth in the mid-single digits. “Premium rate increases are expected to remain supportive.”

QBE’s said its combined operating ratio is forecast to be approximately 93.5%, which will be better than the 95.2% in the 2023 year (which was increased due to a reserve transaction during the year). The ratio was 94.6% excluding that change.

The company said it saw a 2% year-on-year increase in gross written premium for the March quarter in both reported and constant currency terms.

Its renewal rate increases of 7.3% were in line with the company’s expectations, which “reflected reduced rate increases across certain property and reinsurance lines compared to the prior corresponding period.”

Excluding rate increases, premiums fell 2% in constant currency terms. This was due to lower Crop premiums along with property portfolio exits in its North America and Australia operations.

QBE said that it expects organic growth to partially offset the impact of lower commodity prices in its Crop segment.

QBE forecasts Crop gross written premium will come in around $US3.9 billion in FY 2024 (December 31).

On the claims front, the company had a net cost of catastrophe claims of approximately $US300 million in the four months to April. QBE’s catastrophe allowance for the first half (to June 30) is $US609 million.

Drivers for the $300 million figure were mostly driven by storm events, mostly in Australia and North America, with a small spillover of several events from 2023 including a big hailstorm in Italy.

QBE has a full-year provision of $US1.280 billion for catastrophe claims, so it’s used up just under a quarter of that figure.

QBE said its net return from its $US30 billion portfolio (its float) was $US406 million for the quarter compared with $US384 million for the first quarter of 2023. QBE’s said its first-quarter exit core fixed income running yield of 4.7% was up from the 4.6% at the end of 2023.

Total investment funds under management (FUM) of $US30.3 billion were up $US200 million from the end of 2023 and up $US900 million from the end of the March 2023 quarter.

The company also noted that higher risk-free rates resulted in a $US130 million unrealized loss on its core fixed income securities. Although this was broadly offset by the company’s claims liability discount benefit. “The final result was a neutral impact from QBE’s asset-liability management activities for the quarter,” the company said.