WRAPUP 1-Low claims lift reinsurer profits but competition bites

Wed Aug 6, 2014 4:43am EDT

Related Topics

* Swiss Re CEO sees weakening prices in insurance industry

* Hannover Re says targets profit over premium volume

* Swiss Re share down 2.5 pct, Hannover Re down 4.2 percent

By Alice Baghdjian and Jonathan Gould

ZURICH/FRANKFURT, Aug 6 (Reuters) - Lower claims from natural disasters boosted earnings at reinsurers Swiss Re and Hannover Re in the second quarter, but signs of intensifying price competition in the sector pushed their shares lower on Wednesday.

Reinsurers like Hannover, Swiss and market leader Munich Re help their insurance company clients cover claims from major events such as earthquakes or floods in exchange for part of the premium.

Other than a storm in early June that caused around $900 million in damage in Germany, reinsurers saw little in the way of big disaster claims in the quarter.

Swiss Re and Hannover Re said they were on track to meet their financial targets.

But gains in their quarterly earnings fell short of analyst expectations.

Ultra-low interest rates since the financial crisis are enticing investors such as pension funds, high-net worth individuals and other institutional investors to forge into the reinsurance market in search of higher returns, putting pressure on the prices reinsurers can charge.

Swiss Re's fell 2.5 percent and Hannover Re was down 4.2 percent by 0805 GMT. Munich Re, which reports second-quarter results on Thursday, fell 0.6 percent.

Hannover Re said it was focusing solely on maintaining the profitability of its portfolio in face of falling prices.

"Supply substantially exceeds demand in global non-life reinsurance, as a consequence of which competition has continued to intensify sharply in 2014," it said in a statement, adding it expected premium volume for 2014 to remain broadly stable.

Swiss Re's chief executive warned he saw prices generally weakening further, but the Zurich-based company reported an 8 percent increase in premium volume when renewing contracts with its insurance company clients in its July.

Net profit at Swiss Re rose 2 percent to $802 million, compared to expectations for a 14 percent rise according to the average estimate from six analysts in a Reuters poll.

Hannover Re also posted a lower-than-expected rise in net income of 211.5 million euros ($283 million), compared to a consensus forecast of 219 million euros.

The low level of claims also helped Scor's net profit rise by more than one third in the first half of the year, the French reinsurer reported last week. (Reporting by Alice Baghdjian in Zurich and Jonathan Gould in Frankfurt; editing by Tom Pfeiffer)

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