National Interstate Corporation (NATL)

Q1 2010 Earnings Call

May 6, 2010 10:00 a.m. ET

Executives

Julie McGraw - VP & CFO

David Michelson - President & CEO

Analysts

Alison Jacobowitz - Banc of America

Vincent D'Agostino - Stifel Nicolaus

Robert Paun - Sidoti & Company

Meyer Shields - Stifel Nicolaus

Ron Bobman - Capital Returns

Presentation

Operator

Good day, ladies and gentlemen and welcome to National Interstate Corporation's 2010 First Quarter Conference Call. My name is Steve and I'll be your coordinator for today. At this time all participants are in a listen only mode. We will conduct a question and answer period following the Company's prepared statements. (Operator Instructions). As a reminder, this call is being recorded for replay purposes.

Your hosts for today's call are Mr. David Michelson, President and Chief Executive Officer; Ms. Julie McGraw, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer and Mr. Gary Monda, Vice President and Chief Investment Officer.

I would now like to turn the call over to Ms. McGraw to begin the presentation.

Julie McGraw

Thank you Steve. Certain statements made during this call are not historical facts and may be considered forward-looking statements and are based on estimates, assumptions and projections, which management believes are reasonable, but by their nature subject to risks and uncertainties. The Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 provides a Safe Harbor for forward-looking statements.

The factors which could cause actual results to differ materially from those suggested by such forward-looking statements include but are not limited to those discussed or identified from time to time in National Interstate's filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission including the annual report on Form 10-K and quarterly reports on Form 10-Q. We do not promise to update such forward-looking statements to reflect actual results or changes in assumptions or other factors that could affect these statements.

Net earnings from operations is a non-GAAP financial measure which sets aside items that are generally not considered to be a part of ongoing operations such as realized gains or losses on investments. We believe this non-GAAP measure to be a useful tool for analysts and investors in analyzing ongoing operating trends. As such it will be discussed for various financial periods during this call. A reconciliation of net earnings from net earnings from operations from net income is included in our earnings release.

I'd like to now pass the call to Mr. Michelson.

David Michelson

Thank you Julie and thank you for joining our 2010 first quarter earnings conference call. This morning I'll provide comments on the first quarter results, as well as our recently announced pending acquisition of Vanliner Insurance Company from their parent company UniGroup Inc.

We posted solid results for the 2010 first quarter with net income of $0.55 per share, a book value per share increase of 4.6% and a return on equity of 15.2%. This quarters numbers, both topline and earnings require a deeper analysis than usual when coming to last year.

In regard to earnings, we are faced with a difficult task of comparing a very good 2010 first quarter to an exceptional 2009 first quarter. 2010 first quarter earnings from operations of $9.2 million or $0.48 were below the 2009 first quarter but consistent with our expectations. Our operating earnings last year were favorably impacted by unusually low claims activity as well as low underwriting expenses. In contrast, the 2010 first quarter experienced more typical claims results and slightly elevated expenses.

The net operating earnings variance was primarily driven by underwriting results. Our combined ratio for the 2010 first quarter of 86.5% was 7.5 percentage points higher than the 2009 first quarter but consistent with expectations and with recent quarters. The first quarter of last years with its 79% combined ratio was unusual due to both claims and underwriting expenses falling below the average run rate.

The 2010 first quarter loss and LAE ratio was 61.4%, reflecting both frequency and severity within the normal ranges. The 2010 first quarter expenses were up slightly, in part due to the mix of business written which can cause variances in the quarter to quarter underwriting expenses. In addition, first quarter expenses were higher due to legal and professional costs associated with the Vanliner acquisition and other product development efforts.

Net investment income, the other component of operating earnings was in line for the 2010 first quarter in comparison to the first quarter of 2009. Like other investors, one of our major challenges in 2010 related to investment income would be to maintain yield without sacrificing quality or extending the portfolio as we invest maturing fixed holdings and operating cash flows.

To help maintain yield and diversify the portfolio during the quarter we focused our purchases in corporate debt which now comprises approximately 12% of the portfolio. Also contributing to the net income for the 2010 first quarter was the elimination of the remaining valuation allowance on our deferred tax assets related to the net capital losses. The tax valuation allowance was recorded in 2008 during the financial crisis when the investment portfolio value dropped and impairment charged occurred.

Throughout 2009 and into the 2010 first quarter, as the portfolio recovered, the valuation allowance decreased, lowering the effective tax rate for those quarters. We do not expect further impacted related to the valuation allowance which was reduced to zero at quarter end. Also throughout 2009 and continuing into 2010, we have been successful in generating net realized gains from our investments. We will continue to respond to market opportunities to generate capital gains to supplement recurring investment income.

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