The property and casualty unit had a loss ratio -- losses either paid or for which reserves were set aside, divided by premiums earned -- of 63.3% for the first quarter, improving from 68.0% during the first quarter of 2012.
The unit's combined ratio improved to 97.3% in the first quarter from 102.1% a year earlier. The combined ratio is an insurance group's losses plus expenses divided by premiums earned. A ratio above 100% indicates an underwriting loss, and it is quite significant for AIG to bring the combined ratio below 100%.
Sterling rates AIG "outperform," and in a note to clients early Friday raised his price target for AIG's shares to $60 from $45. According to Sterling, the main factor in the company's operating earnings improvement was "the broad risk-on rally we've seen since the first of the year, which led to mark-to-market gains for all manner of risky assets--benefitting AIG's results in practically all of its material segments."
The analyst wrote that the improved combined ratio was "the most important thing in the firm's release," adding that "the company's transformational initiatives are starting to be reflected in the firm's numbers, the firm's best-in group disclosures."
Being called "best-in-group" for reporting quality among major P&C competitors including
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is just another in a series of investor-friendly developments surrounding AIG.
While writing "this is likely to be a better than trend quarter," with unusually low expenses and seasonal advantages, Sterling added that "it clearly establishes that the firm is control of its business, and is marching down a path to achieve the 2015 margin goals that it first set in 2011."
Benmosche's long-term goals for AIG include a return on equity (ROE) of 10%. For the first quarter, the company's ROE was 8.9%.
Sterling on Friday raised his 2013 earnings estimate for AIG to $3.64 a share from $3.60, while raising his 2014 EPS estimate to $4.85 from $4.34.
AIG's shares closed at $42.13 Thursday, rising 19% year-to-date, and trading for 10.4 times the consensus 2014 EPS estimate of $4.06, among analysts polled by
. The consensus 2014 EPS estimate will rise considerably over the next few days, as several analysts have already raised their earnings estimates.
William Blair analyst Adam Klauber on Friday said in a note to clients that "this is the first quarter since second quarter 2009 in which AIG reported a combined ratio under 100%, and it did significantly better than that with 97.3%."
"There was little movement on reserves and it appears that the rate increases and nonrenewal of casualty business led to accident‐year loss ratio gains compared with a year ago," Blair wrote. "With parent liquidity of $15 billion and improving profitability in property casualty, prospects over the next year look bright for AIG, and this quarter signals a higher likelihood of a dividend being instituted this year and for AIG to generate higher levels of earnings going forward."
According to Klauber, further increases in earnings "will be key to use the $17 billion deferred tax asset on the balance sheet." That's quite a bit of potential capital that can be deployed through dividends and/or share buybacks.
Klauber also pointed out that "even with the recent run‐up, the stock is trading at only 0.63 times book, and it could expand from here."
Interested in more on American International Group? See TheStreet Ratings' report card for this stock.
-- Written by Philip van Doorn in Jupiter, Fla.