The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc. (NYSE:HIG) Q3 2023 Earnings Call Transcript October 27, 2023
Operator: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Abby and I will be your conference operator today. At this time, I would like to welcome everyone to the Third Quarter 2023 The Hartford Financial Results Webcast. Today’s call is being recorded and all lines have been placed on mute to prevent any background noise. After the speakers’ remarks, there will be a question-and-answer session. [Operator Instructions] thank you. And I will now turn the conference over to Susan Spivak, Senior Vice President, investor relations, you may begin.
Susan Spivak: Good morning and thank you for joining us today for our call and webcast on third quarter 2023 earnings. Yesterday, we reported results and posted all the earnings related material on our website. For the call today, our participants are Chris Swift, Chairman and CEO of The Hartford; Beth Costello, Chief Financial Officer; Jonathan Bennett, Group Benefits; Stephanie Bush, Small Commercial and Personal Lines; and Mo Tooker, Middle & Large Commercial and Global Specialty. Just a few comments before Chris begins. Today’s call includes forward-looking statements as defined under the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. These statements are not guarantees of future performance and actual results could be materially different.
A financial advisor giving advice to a couple, illustrating the personal finance and insurance products the company offers.
We do not assume any obligation to update information or forward-looking statements provided on this call. Investors should also consider the risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ from these statements. A detailed description of those risks and uncertainties can be found in our SEC filings. Our commentary today include non-GAAP financial measures. Explanations and reconciliations of these measures to comparable GAAP measure are included in our SEC filings as well as in the news release and financial supplement. Finally, please note that no portion of this conference call may be reproduced or rebroadcast in any form without The Hartford’s prior written consent. Replays of this webcast and an official transcript will be available on The Hartford’s website for one year.
I’ll now turn the call over to Chris.
Chris Swift: Good morning, and thank you for joining us. The Hartford’s third quarter financial and operational performance builds upon the momentum achieved in the first half of the year. Once again, Commercial Lines and Group benefits, which in aggregate represent over 85% of earned premium delivered exceptional results. We continue to expand our strong competitive position, successfully executing on priorities and delivering superior returns for shareholders. Let me now call your attention to highlights from the third quarter. Top-line growth in Commercial Lines of 8% with an underlying combined ratio of 87.8. Strong pricing across P&C including double digit increases in Commercial Property, Personal Lines, Auto and Home.
Group benefits fully insured premium growth of 8% with a core earnings margin of 9.8%. Strong investment performance with reinvestment rates, climbing to 6%, driving higher portfolio yield and the trailing 12-month core earnings are already of 14.9%. These results are outstanding and keep us on track to deliver a full year core earnings ROE in the range of 14% to 15%. As I look across the markets, the U.S. economy has remained resilient in recent data points, including robust payroll, strong retail sales, in solid levels of industrial production point to an environment, which continues to be supportive of the Hartford’s businesses. Now let me dive deeper into the third quarter performance by business. In Small Commercial, written premiums were $1.2 billion with 16% growth in new business and another sub-90 underlying margin.
Our best-in-class package product, which we call Spectrum continues to outperform in a competitive marketplace, contributing new business premium of approximately $100 million, up 20% over the prior year. In addition, written premium for excess and surplus lines grew 34% in the quarter with new business growth of over 50%. We expect E&S premium to approach $200 million for the full year. I am incredibly pleased with the overall performance in Small Commercial, which continues to deliver outstanding results with industry leading products and unmatched ease of conducting business and unrivaled pricing accuracy. This business is poised to exceed $5 billion have written premium this year. Middle & Large Commercial had another great quarter Written premiums grew 5% reflecting strong rate execution and new business growth in our excess lines.
Our general industries properties book grew 13% while large property grew 15%. Looking across Commercial Lines, we are taking a thoughtful and disciplined approach to grow property premium within favorable market conditions to the level of approaching $2.5 billion for the full year or a 25% increase. We are focused on managing our CAT exposure, as evidenced by our year to date CAT losses, which were lower than our market share. Coming back to Middle & Large Commercial, underlying margins were exceptional, reflecting the advancements made in data science capabilities, pricing, and underwriting tools. Margin has also benefited from favorable property losses. Those advancements combined with our best-in-class talent position as well to sustain profitable growth in this business.
Global Specialty continues to deliver outstanding results with net written premiums up 11% driven by new business growth and strong renewal written pricing in a number of key lines. Submission flow in the U.S. was up 11% in the quarter, including 15% growth in wholesale and international saw strong new business growth in marine and Energy. Within renewal written pricing, momentum has been building in the wholesale access market. Property pricing has been above 20% all year, and international casualty is above 10%. In addition, we remain excited about the ongoing benefits to the top-line from our expansive product portfolio. Our underwriting discipline, along with enhanced capabilities, developed over the past few years in Global Specialty are driving targeted market share gains with a stellar underlying combined ratio that has hovered in the mid-80s for the past six quarters.
In short, our execution has never been stronger. Turning to pricing, Commercial Lines’ renewal written pricing was 5.4% flat with the second quarter. Excluding workers’ compensation, renewal written pricing rose to 8% up four tenths sequentially with strong pricing in Property, Auto and General Liability. Across Commercial property pricing is over 10% with Auto and General Liability nearing that level as well. Pricing and other liability and casualty lines also remained strong, while public D&O is still pressured. In workers’ compensation, renewal written pricing continues to exceed expectations, remaining slightly positive in the quarter. All in ex-comp renewable written pricing and Commercial Lines remains on top of last cost trends, reinforcing my confidence and achieving our margin expectations for the year.
In summary, momentum persist in commercial lines, where I expect top-line growth and highly profitable margins to continue. Moving to Personal Lines, I am pleased with our continued response to elevated loss cost in both Auto and Home. In this challenging environment, our focus, objectives and execution are unwavering. During the quarter, we achieved auto renewal written price increases of nearly 20%, which we expect to continue at that rate into the fourth quarter. Current accident year lost trend expectations for the third quarter, as updated in June, held a promising development as we finished the year. In Homeowners, renewal written pricing of 14.1% comprised of net rate and insured value increases outpaced underlying loss cost trends. This is the fifth consecutive quarter of double-digit pricing increases in this book.
Our focus on the preferred market within Personal Lines business is a competitive advantage with our modern, innovative and digitally enhanced offering prevail. This product will be available in 39 states by the end of this month. And we are optimistic about future prospects for growth. In the fourth quarter, we expect to achieve Auto new business rate adequacy in over half the states representing two thirds of new business premium. I am confident in the pricing actions we are taking will return this business to targeted profitability in 2025. In Group Benefits, premium growth of 8% and a quarter earnings margin of 9.8% were both outstanding. Core earnings of $170 million was a quarterly record, reflecting focused execution, improved mortality trends, and continued strong disability results.
This quarter’s disability loss ratio reflects historically low, long-term disability incidents, trends, and favorable claim recoveries. In Group Life, mortality trends have improved both sequentially in year-over-year, but remain above pre-pandemic levels. Looking at the top-line, growth was driven by book persistency above 90%, plus strong year to date sales. Overall, the strength of our Group Benefits, diversified product portfolio, as well as our commitment to outstanding customer experience through the use of data and technology resonates in this marketplace, cementing our leadership position. Before I turn the call over to Beth, let me share some takeaways from the recent Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers Annual Conference. Throughout the course of the 60-plus meetings in touchpoints at CIAB, we heard a consistent acknowledgement of the strength of our franchise.
Partners called out our unique digital tools, broad product set, the strength of our innovation agenda, and the consistent execution of our strategy over a number of years. They also expressed their desire to grow their business with us, and they have come to view our team as best-in-class with relationships that have never been stronger. Confirmation from distribution partners that we are delivering on our strategy is strong validation of our leading position in the market. Through those relationships combined with enhanced capabilities, state-of-the-art technology and digital tools we are taking market share while delivering industry-leading returns. With that track record, I am confident in our ability to consistently deliver core earnings ROEs in the 14% to 15% range.
Now, I’ll turn the call over the best to provide more detailed commentary on the quarter.
Beth Costello: Thank you, Chris. Core earnings for the quarter were $708 million, or $2.29 per diluted share. Commercial Lines had a very strong quarter with core earnings of $542 million, and an underlying combined ratio of 87.8. Small Commercial continues to deliver excellent results with premium growth of 9% and an underlying combined ratio of 89.7, which includes some elevated non-CAT property losses. This is the 13th consecutive quarter with an underlying combined ratio of below 90. Middle & Large commercial delivered another quarter of written premium over $1 billion and an exceptional underlying combined ratio of 88.1. This was a 5.6 point improvement from the prior year, including favorable non-CAT property losses and expense ratio improvement.
Global Specialty’s underlying margin with a strong at 4.3, a 20 basis point improvement from a year ago, primarily due to lower loss ratios in Global Reinsurance and International Lines partially offset by higher loss ratios in U.S. financial lines due to public D&O rate pressure, and marine driven by a couple of large losses, as well as higher policyholder dividends in bonds due to the strong profitability of the book. In Personal Lines, core loss for the quarter was $8 million with an underlying combined ratio of 99. Homeowners’ underlying combined ratio of 78.1 was in line with expectations. The Auto underlying combined ratio was one 108.5 for the quarter, which is consistent with our expectation from second quarter. Importantly, we made no adjustments to loss picks from the first half of the year and prior accident years.
As Chris indicated, we continue to pursue rate increases to offset the loss cost trends we are experiencing. Written premium in Personal Lines increased 8% over the prior year, driven by steady and successful rate actions. In Auto, we achieved written pricing increases of 19.7% and earned pricing increases of 11.7%. In Homeowners, pricing increases of 14.1% on a written basis and 13.7% unearned. The expense ratio improved by 2.9 points, primarily driven by lower marketing spend. With respect to CAT, P&C current accident year catastrophe were $184 million before tax, which compares to catastrophe losses of $293 million in the prior year quarter, which included Hurricane Ian losses of $214 million. Although CAT losses were elevated for the industry again this quarter, our results were in line with our expectations as we believe that our effective aggregation management and underwriting discipline has helped to limit our losses from the increased number of convective storms.
Total net favorable prior accident year development was $43 million, with $46 million in Commercial Lines as reserve reductions in workers’ compensation and package businesses were modestly offset by reserve increases in general liability. Moving to Group Benefits. Core earnings in the third quarter were $170 million with a core earnings margin of 9.8%, reflecting strong premium growth and long-term disability results. Group disability continues to deliver strong results with a loss ratio of 67.3% for the quarter down 1.1 points from prior year. The Group Life loss ratio of 80.2% improved 2.9 points versus prior year, reflecting an improving mortality trend. The expense ratio improved 1.4 points and reflects strong top-line performance and expense efficiencies, somewhat offset by continued investments to meet our customers’ evolving needs and drive greater efficiency.
Fully insured ongoing sales in the quarter of $143 million contributed to a year-to-date sales total of $768 million. This, combined with excellent persistency at above 90%, resulted in fully insured ongoing premium growth of 8% for the third quarter. Our diversified investment portfolio produced strong results. For the quarter, net investment income was $597 million. Our fixed income portfolio is continuing to benefit from higher interest rates, and we continue to be pleased with the positive 150 basis point differential between our reinvestment rate and the yield on sales and maturities. The total annualized portfolio yield, excluding limited partnerships, was 4.1% before tax, slightly higher than the second quarter. We expect the full yield excluding LPs will be about 80 basis points higher than the prior year.
Looking forward to 2024, we anticipate another 25 basis points of improvement based on the current yield curve, which will contribute to about a $200 million before tax increase in investment income excluding LPs. Our annualized LP returns were 6.3% in the quarter. Results during the first nine months of 2023 reflect the resiliency of our private equity return and the absence of any real estate equity sales. The overall credit quality of the portfolio remains high with an average credit rating of A plus. This maturity valuation decreased as a result of higher interest rates. Net credit losses, including intent-to-sell impairments remain insignificant, along with an increase of $5 million in the allowance for credit losses on the mortgage loan portfolio.
All of our mortgage loans continue to be current with respect to interest and principal payments. Turning to capital management. During the quarter, we repurchased 4.8 million shares under our share repurchase program for $350 million, and we expect to remain at that level of repurchases in the fourth quarter. We were also pleased to announce yesterday an 11% increase in our common quarterly dividend payable on January 3. This is the tenth increase in the dividend in the last decade and another proof point of the consistent capital generation of the company. Our third quarter results demonstrate that our franchise continues to deliver consistent, sustained industry-leading results. We believe that we have the strategies, talent and technology in place to continue to succeed.
I will now turn the call back to Susan.
Susan Spivak: Thank you, Beth. We have about 30 minutes for questions. Operator, we will now take our first question.
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