(Adds detail, background)
By Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi
ZURICH, Nov 9 (Reuters) - Zurich Insurance posted a 1 percent rise in adjusted nine-month property and casualty premiums and said it expects insurance prices to rise after hurricanes and earthquakes likely made the third quarter the industry’s costliest.
“I am pleased with the development of our businesses in the year to date, particularly against a challenging industry backdrop in the third quarter,” Chief Financial Officer George Quinn said in a statement on Thursday.
“We expect the third-quarter natural catastrophe events to drive improvements in pricing across our business.”
In October, the group estimated that Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria would trigger around $700 million in claims in the third quarter net of reinsurance and before tax.
Like other insurers, it has been squeezed by steep declines in industry prices and persistently low interest rates. The industry is now looking to raise prices after heavy natural catastrophe claims.
The Swiss insurer’s gross written premiums in its largest division stood at $25.35 billion through September. Unadjusted for currency swings, acquisitions and divestments, this represented a 2 percent drop.
It did not provide an update on earnings or its underwriting profitability for the nine months.
Zurich is in the middle of a $1.5 billion cost-cutting programme, which centres on a plan to simplify its structure and improve accountability and performance.
Efforts to shape up its underperforming general insurance unit — which contributes the brunt of premiums but sometimes less of profits — have been a particular focus for Switzerland’s largest insurer.
The group still has a ways to go to get its P&C underwriting profitability up to speed, it said.
“Additional effort will be required to achieve the group’s underwriting goals, while progress on efficiency has been achieved through a further reduction in other underwriting expenses,” Zurich said on Thursday.
In its life insurance unit, annual premium equivalents flattened at $3.47 billion in dollar terms. They rose 1 percent in local-currency terms after adjusting for acquisitions. (Editing by Joshua Franklin and Michael Shields)