W. R. Berkley's CEO Hosts UBS Global Financial Services Conference Call (Transcript)

W. R. Berkley Corporation (WRB)

UBS Global Financial Services Conference Call

May 8, 2012 01:40 pm ET

Executives

William R. Berkley – Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer

Analysts

Brian R. Meredith – UBS Securities LLC

Presentation

Brian R. Meredith – UBS Securities LLC

All right, good afternoon, everybody. I think we’re going to get started, let people just kind of mosey on in. I’m Brian Meredith. I’m the Property Casualty Insurance analyst for UBS. Our next presenter, I believe, is the longest tenured CEO in the property Casualty Insurance industry, and actually has been through three cycle turns, which gives him an immense amount of experience and it’s really incredibly enjoyable listening to him.

Bill Berkley is the Chairman and CEO of W. R. Berkley. With us today also we have the President and COO, Rob Berkley. We’ve got the CFO, Gene Ballard, as well as the Head of Investor Relations, Karen Horvath.

And, with that, I’m going to turn it over to Bill.

William Berkley

Well, good morning. We think that this business is about creating long-term value. It really takes actual knowledge about how the business works. And unfortunately so many of the companies we see are staffed by people who have superficial knowledge who have no depth of thinking and no real experience other than in one bit of the business. We think that it requires a real understanding of all the lines of business to manage the exposure inherent in each line of business, because in fact, the risks and exposure inherent in each line is different. It isn’t all of the same.

You have to understand what levers you want to pull and how you move the specific pieces. You want to be sure you keep the best people. Low turnover is a certain sign of what may well be a very successful company. And you have to put it all together with a culture that leads to value creation, customer service, meeting the demands of the marketplace, all at the same time being able to compete effectively.

We think we can do that. We’ve grown at the right time in the cycle. A cyclical business is particularly interesting. You can’t just grow all the time. Growing in a down cycle is like the reverse of dollar cost averaging. It’s growing when the business is getting worse as opposed to when the business is getting better. And when you are interested in keeping the money and keeping the profits, you want to write the most business you can at the highest price and let it leave you as the prices dissipate.

We’ve been successful in doing that and we think we’re in the process of getting do that again. We’re growing now mainly through our new operating units that we’ve added since 2006. Although our older units, who in the aggregate shrank by more than 25% in the soft cycle are beginning to show some traction and growing on their own. Here you can see both contribution of our new businesses and the various pieces that contribute to our quarterly growth.

If you go back and take a look at that chart, in the center of the chart, it shows you what our growth has been. And growth is in even in every quarter. But as you can see, business continues to grow, pricing is better and better, and we’re enthusiastic about improved profitability.

But all our units don’t grow at the same pace. One of the things people worry surprisingly disappointed it was that we only grew a little over a 11% in the first quarter after having grown 18% in the prior quarter. But the nature of our business is such that various businesses grow at different paces depending on what was being competitive at what point in time. And in fact some of our businesses shrank, and we’re really pleased about that, because we don’t want businesses to growth when it’s not going to be profitable.

When you look at our growth and our individual operating business, you can see they have different characteristics. They grow at different rates, they are all different, different scale, their price increases are all different, their exposure change and each of them represents what we think is opportunity out there for all of them. And we don’t think they can all behave the same way all the time. We think what they do in fact is each seek out the right opportunity to optimize where we consider our mantra risk adjusted written and we are pretty comfortable that the people who run our businesses do that.

When we look ahead our new units build the platforms that allow them to seize the opportunity. We continue to believe that we will grow when we can and we will be able to seize those opportunities. We consistently focus on being sure that we build on the long standing relationships of our people, of our company, we take the infrastructure that Berkley has developed and build and great people can come and plug in their relationships and that growth is due not because we have an objective of growth but because they seize the opportunity for profitability.

We clearly have demonstrated and this chart will look the same no matter how far back you went. We have a loss ratio that is substantially better than the industry. And it continues to be so.

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