A.M. Best Co. has affirmed the financial strength rating (FSR) of A+ (Superior) and issuer credit ratings (ICR) of "aa-" of the primary life/health insurance subsidiaries of MetLife, Inc. (MetLife) (New York, NY) [NYSE: MET]. Concurrently, A.M. Best has affirmed the ICR of "a-" as well as all existing debt ratings of MetLife.
A.M. Best also has affirmed the FSR of A (Excellent) and ICRs of “a+” of the property/casualty companies consisting of Metropolitan Property and Casualty Insurance Company (Warwick, RI) and its eight reinsured subsidiaries. The outlook for all ratings is stable. (See link below for a detailed listing of the companies and ratings.)
The rating affirmations reflect MetLife's diverse business mix, leading market position in its core business lines, strong brand recognition, favorable operating results and significant operating scale. These strengths are enhanced by proactive de-risking strategies as the company looks to focus on less capital intensive and market sensitive products. MetLife also has benefited from significant gains on interest rate hedges, which have helped to reduce its earnings volatility in the current low interest rate environment.
Through its broad and diversified distribution channels, MetLife has the scale and distribution capabilities necessary to maintain its leadership positions in a number of product lines. Moreover, A.M. Best recognizes the strong diversity of earnings and revenue generated by its expanded international operation. In addition, MetLife’s ratings reflect some improvement in its financial leverage and interest coverage ratios. MetLife maintains a very strong liquidity position at the holding company and has the resources to fund upcoming debt maturities without accessing the capital markets. Additionally, MetLife has recently issued debt at very favorable rates, taking full advantage of the current historically low interest rate environment.Partially offsetting these positive rating factors is MetLife's overall risk appetite and risk-adjusted capital position (as measured by Best's Capital Adequacy Ratio), which is viewed as somewhat low for its current rating level. A.M. Best continues to have concerns regarding the company's high exposure to real estate linked assets, primarily from its large commercial mortgage loan portfolio and real estate holdings as well as its overall higher level of below investment grade bonds relative to the industry. A.M. Best believes MetLife's future earnings will be pressured as the low interest rate environment continues to strain its interest sensitive product margins and further spread compression. A.M. Best believes MetLife’s significant block of variable annuity business with embedded guarantees may lead to earnings volatility as interest rates and equity markets change. However, A.M. Best notes that MetLife has purposely curtailed new business growth in this segment and introduced products with protected growth strategies to mitigate this risk on new business.