EMC Insurance Group Inc. The Wall Street Analyst Forum Call Transcript

Nov.17.08 | About: EMC Insurance (EMCI)

EMC Insurance Group Inc. (NASDAQ:EMCI)

The Wall Street Analyst Forum Call

November 17, 2008 10:30 am ET


Mark Reese - CFO

Unidentified Company Representative

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. I am going to [Kem] to hear the public – the published schedule. I would like to introduce the next company in this morning's program. It's interesting we've – we thought then here holding a conference since September and so we're really interested to come down here in November and kind of sense the difference in the mood of the financial markets and already this morning we've had – even within the financial services space, we looked at three companies and three different pieces the Small Cap Community Bank.

For a Small Cap Community Bank, they are very well diversified that was pretty interesting. Two, Thornburg Mortgage, of course which is a benchmark in the mortgage space, so there is a lot of folks paying attentions to that space and to that particular company is a benchmark and now we're going to be the insurance space.

EMC Insurance Group is a insurance holding company with operations in property and casualty, insurance and reinsurance and it was formed in 1974 and became publically held in 1982, when (inaudible), and you will see I'll have a big win over some top 10 football team like soccer the last week, that’s its operations as well as those of its parent company. Its operations as well as those of its parent company, Employers Mutual Casualty Company are concentrated in the regions of the country, where management believes as favorable insurance environment exists.

Approximately 87% of the parent's organization direct property and casualty premium income is derived from insurance sold business. The parent company employees approximately 2300 people countrywide and utilizes the services of approximately 2400 independent insurance agencies throughout 16 regional branch offices.

Without any further introduction, I'd like introduced Mark Reese, Chief Financial Officer.

Mark Reese

Good morning. Let's see the legal disclaimer and get right into the company. We are a property and casualty insurer headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa with a Midwestern focus. Our parent company, Employers Mutual Casualty Company was formed back in 1911, working up our 100th year anniversary in the not too distant future.

We had our initial public offering back in 1982 and we had two follow-on offerings, since then one in 1985 and our most recent was in 2004. We do have two segments, our largest segment is our Property and Casualty Insurance segment and that business is derived from our participation in an inner company pools with our parent and several other affiliates.

We currently have a 30% participation in that pool. And we benefit from the capacity of the entire pool which is about $1 billion in writings. Our writings are diversified, about 82% is commercial and 18% personal and this segment represents about 83% of our total written premiums in 2007.

Our other segment is our reinsurance segment and all of our business at least through 2008 is generated through a 100% participation in a quota share agreement with our parent, Employers Mutual Casualty Company.

Through this arrangement our losses are cap at $2 million per event and we do pay for that protection and that current cost is 10.5% of our written premiums. And what this does is allow us to spread our losses over time, rather than taking a huge loss at one-time with the cap in there, we can spread the cost over multiple years, that’s worked out very well. And it actually stemmed from losses we incurred back in 1992 with Hurricane Andrew.

Our parent company EMC has been assuming reinsurance business since 1951, so we’re very well experienced in that business and this segment represents about 17% of our premium in 2007.

Now we do have a small change occurring in 2009 in our reinsurance and that is due to fact that Employers Mutual will no longer be an approved reinsurer in Germany beginning in 2009. It’s kind of a political situation from my understanding, but basically since Employers Mutual write both direct business and reinsurance business in order to be an approved reinsure in Germany they would either have that subsidiary or an office in that country and we don’t have either of those.

So rather than risk losing approximately $5 million of what we consider to be a profitable business, out of Germany, we’re going to now start writing that business directly. So it will be written outside of the quota share agreement and being written directly by our reinsurance subsidiary.

Since this business will not be coming through the quota share agreement, it will not be subject to the $2 million cap on losses per event. But we don’t believe that that’s a significant risk, we’ve analyzed this business, we don’t believe this business posing significant loss, potential to us exceeding the $2 million. So at this point, we are not going to be purchasing standalone reinsurance on this business.

This graph is a picture of our corporate structure, again our Mutual owns about 59% of the company with remaining 41% being owned by the public. We do have two repurchase programs authorized at this point. The first one is by our parent company, Employers Mutual, they authorized a $15 million stock repurchase program back in 2005 and that program is currently dormant, well it's about 70% complete. The other program is by the public company itself we currently have a $25 million stock repurchase program authorized.

As of November 10, about $13.8 million of that $25 million has been expended to purchase approximately 550,000 shares. And again, you can see our two segments there. We do have a very experienced management team, average time with the company is 24 years and in the industry is 28 years. So we went through the cycles, we know what to do and what not to do, and I think that’s going to play out very well for us as we continue through this current soft cycle.

I want to speak a little bit about the benefits of the pooling agreement. This agreement allows us to spread our risk over a wide range of geographic locations, lines of insurance, rate filings, commission plans commission plans and policy forms. We do benefit from the capacity of the entire pool, which is exactly 1.1 billion in direct premiums in 2007 and as of September 30, this year our statutory surplus stood at about $900 million.

We do have an A- excellent rating from A.M. Best on our pool operations. We have a network of 2400 insurance agencies in 41 states that we currently actively do business in. This structure also gives us merger and acquisition flexibility, because that only can we purchase or merge subsidiaries at the public company level, we can also view it at the parent company level and we have actually done that in the past where we bought companies in through the pool and therefore we expand the size of the pool without a cost to the public company, so that flexibility worked out very well for us. And it also provides us economies of scale in our operations and the purchase of reinsurance.

This is a map showing the location of our 16 branch offices throughout United States, and you can see we are primarily focused in the Midwest, but we do have branch and business throughout United States, although we do try to avoid coastal exposures, we are not a big fan of the hurricane exposures.

Talk a little bit about our local market presence that supported to us through these 16 branch offices and five services offices. We are a very decentralized operation. Each branch performs its own underwriting, claims, marketing and risk management functions. We feel this enhances our relationships with not only our agents, but also with our customers.

The agents especially can work with the same person in the branch every time they call in, they don’t get a different person every time, if they were calling the home office. So we feel that really helps strengthen our relationships with the branches and the agents. And this structure allows us to develop products, marketing strategies, and pricing that is targeted toward individual territories, so again flexibility.

This shows the location of our independent agents throughout the United States. Again, you can see we are concentrated in the Midwest, but we are working to diversify throughout United States. Currently, we are targeting the Pacific Northwest and also South Carolina, although we don’t have a whole lot of activity at this point.

Question; why would we sell through the independent agents? We feel it is really the best fit for us being a primary commercial writer of insurance, gives us a strong distribution, which is the predominant choice of business owners, institutions, and individuals. Provides counsel, choice, advocacy and personal service to clients; and by representing multiple carriers, agent can tailor coverages to meet their client's individual needs. Also gives the ability to provide responsive local service and competitive insurance product to clients, and as commercial accounts become increasingly complex, as a business grows.

Those businesses do rely on a trusted advisor which is their agent. And based on a survey that was done by independent insurance agents of America, in 2007 independent agent sold approximately 80% of the commercial insurance in United States. So again that is really our target market commercial insurance, so that the independent agency system really plays well for us.

We do have a diversified book of business. About 18% it’s through our reinsurance operation and remaining 82% is from our property and casualty. And then, on this slide you can see that business is broken down but spread quite equally between the four major lines of business, it was being commercial auto, workers compensation, commercial liability and commercial property.

And we also do offer home motors and personal auto in coverage. In our commercial lines of business, we do have three distinct categories that I want to mention, because we feel this segment of our business really allows us to maintain business during the soft cycle.

The first one is our EMC choice product line and that is 12 selected business coverage’s that are available to all of our branch offices and the local agents take the lead on these products. And these are tailor-made products kind of package policies for small businesses, small-to-medium size business, where they can go on and purchase the whole coverage package and don’t have to worry about possibly missing some type of protection that they might need.

The second one is our target markets and these are actually branch specific, where the branch is identified in need for specific type of coverage, couple of examples are Petroleum Marketers and Mobile Home Parks and these products are tailor-made for those specific locations and needs of the insurance.

And then, third one is our Safety Groups, which are basically target markets that have matured and are now on a dividend paying capacity and what we do is we pool business from similar risk and my best example is school systems in the state of Iowa.

We insured virtually every school district in the state of Iowa. And what we do is we aggregate the loss, the activity of that pool on a annual basis, and if that business is profitable, we pay a dividend back to those insurance.

So that’s kind of a hook for us. Because the dividend is paid out on a three year basis -- three year rolling basis. So for that business to leave if they’re on a dividend paying capacity they are given up their return on premium, so we feel that really points out well for us and helps us to hang on to that book of business during soft cycles.

On the reinsurance book, shows accretive business comparing 1995 to 2007 and you can see -- there have been some change in that -- the structure of that book of business. Back in 1995, the majority of the business was on a pro rata basis and today the majority has shifted to property excess.

And that’s really a function of the marketplace. We’re not out there developing the products, we’re participants that the bigger players develop and then they broker out. So we’re just following the market in that arena, but it’s interesting to note there has been some change in that insurance segment.

EMC interest group has outperformed the property and casualty insurance industry annually by an average of 4.1 percentage points since 1990, and this represents the loss ratio and the LAE ratio. There have been a few exceptions along the way, again 1992 back when hurricane Andrew hit Florida that was before we had the cap, the $2 million cap in place on our reinsurance segment.

So, they were buying their own reinsurance protection at that point. Not only did they get tag with a lot of losses, they also had reinstatements premiums that they had to pay at the same time. So again that really emphasized the need for us to spread the cost over period of years rather than take it all once. So we implemented that mechanism now where we cap losses at $2 million per event.

Then we had a period from 1998 to 2001, where we had heavy Midwest storm activity. We always have storm activity in the Midwest, this year has been a fine example of that but during that timeframe we did have four successive years of very high activity and hopefully we're not beginning them another one this four years trends.

And then in 2004, we have reserve strengthening that was right when we did our last follow on offering and we actually did that offering in October of 2004 and as of September 30th, actuaries concluded that our reserves were adequate. We had been strengthening our case reserve through that point because the Actuarial Department had noticed that case reserves were developing short. So we took some corrective actions during 2004 to get those reserves where they need to be, and I replied them little later that will show you that has been successful for us.

Premiums earns, we've had 8.1% compound growth over this nine year period, and I do want to point out that in 2005 is when we had a increase in our pools participation and that was result of our last offerings, we went from a 23.5% participation in our inter company pools with the current 30% participation. So we had nice growth in our premium as a result of that increase.

And then in 2006, we did have a reduction in our premiums and that was due to a reduction in MRB premiums which is one of the sources of our premium in our reinsurance operation as well as revised terms of our quarter share agreement with our parent company where we changed how we paid for that protection prior to that time rather than the 10.5% premium commission that we pay for that protection, we were actually paying an overwrite commission. So was being reflected differently the financial statement.

This is a quick look at our estimated changes in our rate levels on our insurance policies during the last 12 months, September '08 compared to September '07. In total, our premiums went down about 4.9%, which is consistent with what we've seen over the last several years during this current soft cycle.

Commercial property, you see does have a largest decline during this time period and that's mainly for competitive reasons where our manual rate changes reductions have been higher on this piece of business in order to be competitive during this soft cycle.

Take a quick look at our results for our first nine month of 2008, and it's been a difficult year as a lot companies have experienced. We have experienced record catastrophe and storm losses totaling $49.1 million in the first nine months of this year and adequate to $2.34 per share and I do have a slide later on that will put that in perspective but that’s a big number for us.

We also had a fair amount of investment impairment losses, $21.7 million or $1.03 per share. And that does include $14.9 million of impairment losses that we were forced to recognize on the perpetual preferred stocks of Fannie and Freddie as a result of the government placing those companies on a conservative shift this year.

Our GAAP combined ratio is 109.3% and those of you who are making notes in the booklet that number is change from what’s in the booklet. Our net operating income for the first nine months is $0.63 per share.

We had a net loss of $0.16 per share, again reflecting those impairment losses that we took and our book value $22.72 per share. Want to give you a comparison of our results, our returns of shareholders compared to our peers, we think we stack up very well. We've had about 240% returns during this 10 year timeframe.

Now I do want to note that we paid 107 consecutive quarterly dividend since we became a public company back in 1982. Our current payout is $0.18 a share and our 108 dividend pay out is occurring this week.

Stock price, like many companies we have had a lot of volatility this year in our stock price as of November 10th we are at $24.88 decline along with the market and this morning we’re in $22.37 or less. Book value per share, we had some nice growth going until 2004, which again, has been a difficult year and our book value declined from $26.15 per share at the end of ‘07 down to the current $22.72. Again, primarily driven by the large and the record amount of the Katrina storm losses, that we’ve had this year; as well as the impairment losses that we’ve been forced to pay this year.

Looking our combined ratio, over the last several years, 1999 through 2001 was really when we’re coming out of the last soft cycle and quite frankly that we did put on some business during the last soft cycle that was underpriced and we ended up paying for that, we are working diligently to not to repeat that mistake during this current soft cycle.

Had very good years in the early 2004, six out again, because that is when we were doing reserve strengthening and since that time our results have been very good, actually had record years in 2005 and 2006 and another strong year in 2007.

And speaking about record results, 2005 was our first record when we had net income per share of $3.16 that record was broken in 2006 when we went to $3.91 per share, and in 2007 although not a record, we still had very good result at $3.09 per share. And then through the first nine months of this year, we’ve actually had a net loss of $0.16 per share.

Retention rates, very important to an insurance company. You want to keep the good business on your books and then always look for profitable new business. Our retention ratios are very consistent, and again, we contribute that to our local presence and working with the local branches and agents in tandem and we consistently maintained 86%, 87% retention ratios, which again we think serves us very well, especially during soft cycles.

Net income loss per share, sometimes when you put things into a picture it really stands out. You can see the period from 2004, when we had the reserve strengthening through 2007 was very good for us. And then when you put on the 2008 results, you can see what a difficult year it has been for us, but hopefully it's going to be an isolated year.

I want to contract that a little bit with net operating income per share, which is a gold number in this chart and you can see our net operating income have declined. There are two major components of net operating income, one being catastrophe and storm losses. And again, this chart really demonstrates how significant those losses have been through 2008, at $2.34 per share, our prior record was back in 2001 when we had $1.32 per share. So, heavy Midwest storms and then the Hurricane losses that we've had, as well as a very devastating tornado loss that we had in Park Resort, Iowa in May of this year, as well.

And then the other thing that really impacts your net operating income is development on prior reserves. And again, going back 2004 when we took corrective action to get our case loss reserves to the level that we felt comfortable with. I want to stress, during that timeframe, our overall reserves were always adequate, and we shifted some components of our case loss reserves where the deficiencies were developing.

Our Actuarial department had never looked at case reserves on a standalone basis, until they started seeing as adverse development. We have since changed our actuarial analysis to not only look at total reserves, but case loss reverses individually and they attract that on a quarterly basis and if corrective actions is needed, we'll make those updates or changes on a timely basis.

Again catastrophe and storm losses, as a percent of earn premiums, generally we run in the range of 5% to 6% on an annual basis, this year with the record amount of Midwest storm activity that was experienced, we're now projecting that catastrophe and storm losses will represent 14.2% of earned premium. So really putting into perspective, at least for me, how significant that activity has been this year?

I want to stress this not, because we have a concentration of exposures, with our 16 branch offices we feel we are really well diversified across Midwest, it's just been one of those years where every time there is a storm it's been a significant storm and hits some place where we're at. So it's just one of the risk you run of being in the Midwest, and we're not ashamed of it. We're glad, we are there to provide the support to our policyholders, but some years you just are in the wrong place every time and that's the way it worked out this year.

Investment income, again back to 2004, when we raised our capital from our secondary offering, we also had capital from the pooling change. When we do a pulling change, we transfer the reverses and we transfer assets to support those reverses. So we had a lot of assets come into the public company in 2005 those assets were invested and our investment income has grown substantially since that timeframe.

Look at financial results, you can see we've had good growth in all of these categories during this timeframe. I want to point out that we don’t have very much debt we only have 25 million, and that debt is represented by surplus notes that have been issued from our Property and Casualty Insurance subsidiaries to our parent company.

So inter-company debts carries the very low 3.6% interest rate. So it’s worked out very well for us, and we've had good growth in our equity and statutory surplus to this timeframe as well.

Balance sheet; we do have a very conservative balance sheet our philosophy is that we take our risk on the underwriting side not on the investment side. So when you look at our investments, the majority of ours are in fixed maturity securities; and 99.4% of total investments were investment grade as of September 30, duration of 5.99 years [NOIs yield] of 5.6%.

Our equity portfolio, last five years, we've got an average return of 8.71% compared to the S&P 500 or 5.17. On the [lost and settlement expense] reserves we do perform quarterly internal actuarial reviews every quarter. And we make adjustments on a timely basis if need to be.

We do not believe in the big bath theory, where if you start identifying shortages and reserves you ignore it and you hope things are going to get better, we take corrective actions on a timely basis with the host that we are going to minimize the amount of the effects on income.

And one indication of our reserving philosophy, which I characterize as very conservative is that we've had cumulative releases of $150 million in excess reserves since 1993. So the reserves we put up we want to make sure are adequate and for the most parts those reserves do develop downward as those claims mature, which does add to income in subsequent years.

And again the debt only $25 million, to our public company. Now start our investment portfolio as of September 30, again very conservative, we’re not into the exotic investments, we’re not in derivatives, we’re not in things like that that a lot of companies have been burn by this year.

We did have a fairly large investment in Freddie and Fannie Mae, which we proceed to be very conservative investments, but obviously it didn’t work out that way this year. And a quick snapshot of our equity portfolio, that did manage outside of the company by Harris Trust and we've very good results with it.

And the buying quality, I want to stress that we don’t have any direct exposure to subprime residential lending. We do hold 31.9 million of residential mortgage-backed securities, which does include 4.2 million of seasoned government backed thirty year fixed maturity securities.

And expand on that a little bit, we did implement a new investment strategy during 2008 that’s targeting residential mortgage-backed securities; and we implemented this strategy to take advantage of the liquidity-induced market dislocation that currently exists in the securitized-residential mortgage marketplace.

This is a self liquidating strategy that targets AAA-rated residential bonds, they are current on payments. Again, no security is backed by sub-prime mortgages. We made a $40 million commitment to this program and about $36 million has been invested as of November 5th. There is prudent diversification respect to the key risk factors in this investment strategy, average duration is five to seven years with projected yields of 7% to 8%. This is one of those opportunities where we just couldn’t pass it up, even tough we are conservative in our investment philosophy, we didn’t feel this is outside our appetite at all.

I did want to speak about our reserving methodology because we do reserve differently than most public insurance companies. We do not use accident year loss picks to establish our reserves, our case and IBNR reserves are established independently of each other and then are added together to get our total reserves.

Our case reserves are based on the probable outcome for each claim with probable outcome defined as what is most likely to be awarded if the case were to be decided by the civil court in the applicable venue or in the case of workers compensation case by that state's workers compensation commission. On an individual claim basis, these case reserves represent the company's best estimates of exposure. However, when accumulated the total was somewhat conservative because all claims will not be settled at the probable outcome amount.

And then IBNR reserves are calculated by line of business and allocated to the various years use in historical claims emerging to patent. Exiting year results, the current and more recent [action] years have a higher proportion of case IBNR and settlement expense reserves and earlier exiting years. And since our reserves establish somewhat conservatively, we do get higher loss and settlement expense ratios in the early stages of an exiting year's development. But as those exiting years mature, the reserves come down and the ratios generally decline.

As an example, we reported a 109.3% combined ratio on the first nine month of 2008. If you add back a large amount of favorable development, we experienced on prior year reserves it would appear that if 2008 exiting year is generating a combined ratio of 119.8%. However, as have been a case with other recent exiting years, we do believe that that ratio will decline as those claims are settled and we'll ultimately end up somewhere between 109%, 114%. And at June 30th the company's reverses were in the upper quartile of the range of actuarial indications, which is consistent with prior periods.

Let me take a quick look at rate levels starting 1999 kind of during the last soft cycle, you can see during the early 2000 rates did increase significantly, and we have been on the down side of that bell curve recently, but when you compare our rates at the end of September of '08 to 1999, our rates are still 20% more adequate than they were in 1999. So even though rates have gone down, we still feel a very comfortable.

Guidance for the year, we have an operating income of $0.65 to $0.95 per share. We do project an underwriting loss, unfortunately again, primarily because of the heavy [catastrophe ] and storm activity. Projected investment income of 355 have a small tax benefit and our operating income is right now projected to $0.88 per share.

Summing it up, during the investment in EMC [in terms could be] you have access to a large capital base in the first [flight] book of business through our participation in the EMCC pool. We have a regional and decentralized operating structure, which we think serve us very well during soft cycles like we’re in now.

We have a proven ability to deliver attractive returns to our shareholders 10.5% over last five years and 15.3% over the past three years. Our dividend yield is 2.48% as of September 30th, we have a very conservative balance sheet and experienced management team that can get us through this soft cycle.

And with that we'll be glad to take any questions that you may have. That’s it. Yes sir?

Question-and-Answer Session

Unidentified Analyst

I am not clear about the reinsurance future, reinsurance strategies of your company. The initiatives these bare company's would also offer the insurance how that affects you?

Mark Reese

Yeah the question is what is the -- I guess the outlook for reinsurance for our company? The fact that our parent company was no longer an authorized re-insurer in Germany has nothing to do with the reinsurance marketplace. It simply the regulatory environment in Germany, and again I feel there is some political backlash associated with that change in their regulatory oversight my understanding is that they are not happy that as a foreign re-insurer they have to post collateral when they do business in the US, so to retaliate they basically set up these more difficult regulatory requirements, and which companies can actually be authorized re-insurers in Germany.

The business is still there, we just have to write it directly to our reinsurance subsidy rather than go through our quarter share agreement with our public company. So I really don’t believe that the reinsurance business is being downplayed at all. We just have to do business a little differently to adapt to the regulatory guidelines.

Unidentified Analyst


Mark Reese

No not at all. Any other questions.

Unidentified Analyst

We refer several times new (inaudible) have come to soft the cycle, what’s your outlook for these cycles particularly (inaudible)?

Unidentified Company Representative

The question is what’s our outlook on the current soft cycle, especially as it pertains to the commercial line? That’s a question that’s I guess a lot any more. There has been a lot of activity this year that would -- would or could indicate that perhaps the soft cycle is going to subside because of the heavy [catastrophe] and storm activity as well as the turmoil in the equity markets.

Taking together, we believe that enough surplus has been lost in the insurance industry that rates will likely stop deteriorating at least in the near future. My concern is that even if rates do stabilize, the market will hopefully rebound at some point in the future, be it six months, nine months or a year from now. And when it does that capital will flow back into the statutory surplus of the insurance companies.

So I think that stabilization of rates that may see on the near-term basis maybe shortlist. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see the soft cycle continue on for a couple of more years. But having said that, I will say that this soft cycle has been a lot different than the past soft cycles, because we haven’t seen the violent deterioration in rates that we’ve seen previously. The 5% declines that we’ve seen over last few years are relatively manageable.

We are getting to the point where rates on an overall basis probably or slightly less inadequate to make profit, but then it really comes down to the selection of your book of business. And we have implemented a lot of tools since the last soft cycle, that it going to helps us better cope with the current soft pricing environment, and lot of that has to do with predicted modeling. We've implemented a lot of tools to help us segregate our book of business and determine which sections of the book really provide the best profit opportunity and those are the policies that you really want to target price decline for.

The other pieces of business were perhaps the profit potential isn't quite as high, you kind of have to take a hard stand and say, we need this process – or we need this price to generate a profit and if we can't get it we may have to let that piece of business walk away, but we're much better prepared to handle those types decisions now than we were back in the prior soft cycles.

Any other questions? Great, well, thank you. Enjoyed very much.

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