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Please note that some of the matters to be discussed today are forward-looking. These forward-looking statements involve certain risks and uncertainties. With respect to these risks and uncertainties, we direct your attention to our news release and to our various filings with the SEC. Also a reconciliation of non-GAAP measures was provided with the news release. Statutory accounting data is prepared in accordance with statutory accounting rules, and therefore is not reconciled to GAAP. With that, I'll turn the call over to Steve.Steve Johnston Thank you, Dennis. Good morning and thank you for joining us today to hear more about our first quarter results. We posted a strong first quarter with nice premium growth, and most importantly, we grew profitably. Investment performance was also strong and we more than covered our dividend with operating earnings, allowing us to grow book value. Previously announced catastrophe losses at 11.1 loss ratio points were more than three times higher than our long-term average for the first quarter, and yet we produced an underwriting profit with a 99.1% combined ratio. We continue to earn higher pricing and healthy level of premium growth in all of our property casualty segments. In our Life Insurance segments, earned premiums rose at a double-digit pace during the first quarter. Our ability to deliver more precise pricing through analytics and our strong underwriting combined with more favorable market conditions also continue to give us confidence that our premium growth meets our criteria for profitability. Commercial Lines renewal pricing was a notch above what we experienced in the fourth quarter, with an overall average increase in the low to mid-single-digit range. Workers compensation led the way with just over a 10% increase in our smaller commercial property policies that renewed during the first quarter were in the high single-digit range.
For our Excess and Surplus line segment, renewal prices increased for the 19th consecutive month and were up in the high single-digit range for the first quarter. Our Personal Lines business is also benefiting from rate increases over successive years and renewal premiums rose 12% in the first quarter. Policy retention continues to remain steady for each of our property casualty segments and new businesses continuing is contributing to premium growth.New business premiums rose 6% with the more newly appointed agencies driving that growth. Our goal for new agency appointments during 2012 is 130 and we appointed 56 new agencies in the first quarter. That puts us at over 40% of the full year target. We've been out visiting with agents at our annual sales meetings. So far we have met with agencies from 25 states and in May, we'll have meetings with the agents in the balance of our states. It is encouraging to see how skilled our agents are at conveying the value of our products and services and they continue to work with us to implement price increases where they are needed. Our pricing analytics are helpful in distinguishing the more attractive new business opportunities from the less attractive ones giving us a good sense of when to walk away from business that we believe is underpriced. Loss experience that was favorable in many respects, added to the benefits we are seeing from better pricing. Paid losses other than catastrophes were down 1.3%, a good sign given that earned premiums were up 7.1%. Our catastrophe losses were limited to specific areas and most of our operating territory benefited from milder than usual weather. Fewer new large losses, which we define as $250,000 or more per claim, were largely responsible for improvement in current accident year results. While we realized that large losses naturally fluctuate quarter-to-quarter, we are encouraged by overall paid loss trends, which were a big reason that we experienced favorable reserve development on older accident years. Mike will discuss that more in a moment. Read the rest of this transcript for free on seekingalpha.com