W.R. Berkley's CEO Discusses Q1 2012 Results - Earnings Call Transcript

W.R. Berkley Corporation (WRB)

Q1 2012 Earnings Call

April 24, 2012 9:00 am ET

Executives

William R. Berkley – Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

W. Robert Berkley, Jr. – President and Chief Operating Officer

Eugene G. Ballard – Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Analysts

Amit Kumar – Macquarie Research Equities

Keith Walsh – Citigroup

Joshua Shanker – Deutsche Bank Securities

Vinay Misquith – Evercore Partners Inc.

Larry Greenberg – Langen McAlenney

Michael Nannizzi – Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

Doug Mewhirter – RBC Capital Markets

Meyer Shields – Stifel Nicolaus & Company, Inc.

Jeffrey Cohen – Bank of America/Merrill Lynch

Robert Farnam – Keefe, Bruyette & Woods

Dan Johnson – Citadel

Presentation

Operator

Good day, and welcome to the W. R. Berkley Corporation’s First Quarter 2012 Earnings Conference Call. Today’s conference is being recorded. The speakers’ remarks may contain forward-looking statements. Some of the forward-looking statements can be identified by the use of forward-looking words including without limitation believes, expects or estimates. We caution you that such forward-looking statements should not be regarded as a representation by us that the future plans, estimates or expectations contemplated by us will in fact be achieved.

Please refer to our Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year-ended December 31, 2011 and our other filings made with the SEC for a description of the business environment in which we operate and the important factors that may materially affect our results. W.R. Berkley Corporation is not under any obligation and expressly disclaims any such obligation to update or alter its forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise.

I would now like to turn the call over to Mr. William R. Berkley. Please go ahead, sir.

William R. Berkley

Thank you very much. Good morning everyone. We were pleased with our quarter. We were pleased with how business is going. We are glad all of you are here, so you’ll get the opportunity here about our loss reserves and so forth, we don’t put it in our press release about our development and things in order to get a better audience on the call.

With that, and we’ll start with Rob talking about operations, and then will follow with Gene talking about the financials, and then I’ll talk a little bit about what’s going on, and then we’ll take questions.

So with that Rob, why don’t you go ahead?

W. Robert Berkley, Jr.

Okay, thank you. Good morning. Market conditions continue to improve during the first quarter. While our cycle term may not appear visible during any 90-day period when one reflects back and where we were a year ago, it is clear there has been significant improvement. Evidence of the change can be seen in many ways, including the increasing number of carriers publicly announcing significant rate increases.

Additionally, we are seeing many market participants adjusting their risk appetite resulting in a gradually increasing flow of submissions into the Specialty markets. This increase in flow predominantly tends to be [risk] with poor loss experience or other competitions.

Furthermore, the distribution system seems to have recognized and accepted that we are generally exiting the soft market. Consequently, they are becoming ever more successful and selling the rate increases that many carriers are required.

Lastly, the continued accelerating growth of the state defined risk plan populations clearly supports the notion that market discipline is returning. Having said this, life is not perfect and that includes the insurance industry. There are a few carriers in both the standard and specialty insurance market, as well as the reinsurance market that don’t seem to fully appreciate that things are changing. As a result of this circumstance, there is somewhat a lopsided barbell in the marketplace between those that are seeking late adequacy and those that don’t get it.

Having said this, the market is turning in spite of this limited number of irresponsible companies that are serving as a hindrance, not a barrier. Primary workers’ compensation and cat exposed property continues to lead other lines with regard rate increases. the reality of increasing loss costs combined with cat activity over the past several years have clearly caught peoples’ attention.

Additionally, the impact of recent revisions to cat models as well as the growing consequence of lower new money rates continues to apply added pressure. While change in behavior may vary by territory and product lines, clearly the general trend is definitively upward.

Having said this, for the moment, there are certain lines such as excess workers’ compensation and parts of the professional liability market that it remains more resistant to increase the prices. fortunately however, it would seem as though pricing has bottomed out in even these lines and is generally no longer deteriorating.

As we have suggested in the past, there is a correlation between the duration of the tale – excuse me, and the time it takes market participants to recognize a change in behavior is required. Additionally, the lack of frequency can also experience a similar delay in recognition of underwriting issues.

However, even longer tail lines in business that has become exceptionally competitive can overshadow these rules of thumb. As our Chairman says, even long-tail lines of business can become short-tail if they are sufficiently underpriced.

The company’s net written premium for the quarter was $1.2 billion; this represents an increase of 11% over the corresponding period in 2011. More than half of this growth came about as a result of improved rates. While all five of our business segments grew during the quarter, the lion share of the increase came from our International and Specialty segment.

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