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CNA Financial Corporation (CNA)

March 21, 2013 10:45 am ET

Executives

D. Craig Mense - Chief Financial Officer, Principal Accounting Officer and Executive Vice President

Analysts

Arun N. Kumar - JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division

Arun N. Kumar - JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division

Good morning. I'm Arun Kumar the fixed income analyst here at JPMorgan. It my pleasure to introduce Craig Mense, the EVP and Chief Financial Officer of CNA. I just want to remind everyone, at 12:15 lunch will be served outside, and following lunch, we'll have a rating agency panel in rooms B and -- I'm sorry C and D, which I'll be moderating.

With that, I'll stop and turn it over to Craig. Craig, thank you.

D. Craig Mense

Thanks Arun, and thank you, all, for coming to listen to us today. Let me go ahead and start by the -- showing you this obligatory statement. I'll let you read that disclaimer for a second. This looks a bit like church, in terms of people in the back and the front here.

The -- we can talk a bit about CNA. So appreciate your interest in the company and its prospects, and our -- certainly our performance. For those of you who do or don't know it, it is a -- we are the seventh largest property casualty insurer in the country. So we are certainly a prominent player in the industry, and have been for a long period of time. You see our history dates back more than 115 years. So we're a well established business. Business mix is pretty healthy in terms of specialty and commercial. I'll talk a little bit, later in the presentation, about what I think -- really, the strength of the business is, is a higher degree of diversification inside, the businesses -- and when I say diversification I mean not between -- jumping in-between industry groups. What I mean, in terms of the individual risks and the similarities, size and shapes of individual risk inside the portfolio. We are largely North American-based business, although our recent entry -- we do have a small European business, and our recent acquisition of Hardy gives us access to the $34 billion Lloyd's marketplace. We have certainly, consistently -- we improved the consistency and stability of our operating performance, I think pretty considerably, over the last 5 or 6 years. And that's been reflected in rating agencies, our trajectory from rating agencies has been upward over time. Although I tell you that I think that our capital, which is reflected really market price of our debt, I think would suggest that our capital adequacy well above the current rating strength.

Give you a bit of a perspective on the individual businesses that make up CNA. The Commercial and the Specialty, and Hardy really comprise our Property and Casualty ongoing business segment. So that is the earnings driver of the business going forward. So you get a sense of both the revenue and earnings generated by those businesses. As I said we've earned -- we've owned Hardy only since July of last year and those results are somewhat depressed by both the Sandy loss, as well as the impact of some accounting and integration expenses early in this business. So we do have a pretty sizable life group runoff segment. Those businesses have been a runoff since 2004. You can see the size of those reserves. Those are payout annuities, payout annuity structured settlements, so those are fixed annuities. And we do have a considerable amount of individual and group long-term care reserves. The Corporate segment is -- the gross reserves include the sale of our Asbestos and Environmental business to National Indemnity. So the net reserves are quite considerably less than that amount, and what really runs through the segment at the present is just expense of the corporate debt.

When Tom Motamed joined us in January of '09, Tom and I sat down and established a number of operating and financial priorities for the business, which are outlined here, to guide our future strategic direction, as well as our decision-making as we move forward. And what I've highlighted for you is the things I think most important or would like to emphasize, and that is that the way we intend to -- and our differentiating our business and our competition within the business is by a significant degree of specialization. CNA, in the past, at least in -- particularly in commercial lines, was much more of a generalist. And CNA future, current and future is becoming much more of a specialist. We've been specializing around a number of selected customer segments, as well as products where we feel we have depth of expertise. And I'll speak a little bit further about the rationale for those in the future, actually next slide. But we are becoming much more of a focus specialized operation, and we have greatly emphasized the need to have unquestioned financial strength and financial stability. As I've said, all of our capital models, as well as -- we run -- certainly rating agency models would suggest that our capital adequacy is well above the current ratings on the debt and financial strength.

So we talk about specialization. These are our selected customer segments, and I guess first question would be why specialize. We think, by specializing, that we have better clarity and better focus of operations. We think we can drive both share and profitability improvements by specializing. Also eliminates distractions in areas where we might have dabbled in the past. We think it also strengthens producer relationships to do that. And as we looked at our business in '09, we saw, really, 2 examples of specialization that had worked very profitably for CNA. That's in the Health Care business and in Construction, both difficult businesses where we had significant market share, and where those businesses really outperformed the other businesses in CNA, as well as significantly outperformed the industry. So we have -- we are now organizing the company around these selected segments. And we chose these segments because of both their size and importance to the Property Casualty business. Their prospects for growth, their prospects for both their historic profitability as well as future profitability, and then our expertise inside CNA in these segments.

Give you some sense of the -- where the revenue is generated in CNA. As I said before, at the beginning, we are largely a North American-based operation. Most of the revenue, U.S. Property Casualty business, we do have a smallish but profitable businesses in both Canada and Europe, and the Hardy results are ones that reflect a 1/2 year of revenue and earnings. As I said before we closed that acquisition July 2 of 2012. You also need to keep in mind that, in addition to Hardy's only being owned for 1/2 a year, that in 2012, 25% of their capital was provided by third parties, and '13 and forward, CNA provides 100% of it. And there's some seasonality in the revenue generation from Hardy, where it's heavier in the first part of the year than in the second part of the year.

I'm going to spend a moment on the balance sheet and the importance of it, and I think unquestioned financial strength of the company. We are -- it's very conservatively constructed. We employ a very small amount of leverage. We generate a high degree of liquidity over $5 billion of cash flow a year, being generated by both operating performance as well as maturities, prepayments in our fixed income portfolio. So a healthy amount of liquidity, and that's been consistent over the years, I'll show you that in a moment. The portfolio -- investment portfolio is high quality. We have significantly reduced our reliance on reinsurance over the years. We are now primarily a gross line underwriter, and we have limited amount of exposure -- credit exposure to reinsurers, as well as dependence on reinsurance capacity to operate the business. On the reserving side, we think that we have really changed the reputation of the company. We now have, really, 24 straight quarters where we have recognized favorable reserve development, and we've established sound and disciplined practices for the place. And as far as capital, we've been very much guided by the strategy and strategic direction I established -- discussed earlier, and we've been focused on continuously simplifying and focusing the operation on the businesses where we think that -- which we'll depend on for the future, and eliminating expenses. So this really is -- this creates the firm foundation for the business going forward.

As I said, you can see the capital structure is conservative. Debt to cap less -- a little bit higher than 17%. Now I think it's important to recognize that a lot of that shareholders' equity includes unrealized gains, and we tend to think of shareholders' equity x the other compressive income effects, so that's about $11.5 billion instead of $12.3 billion. And probably more importantly, you can look at the sustained strengths growth and statutory surplus, which we maintained around $10 billion over the course of the last couple of years. So very strong capital base.

On the liquidity side, you can see that we have the $5 billion that we've generated consistently over the last 3 years. Remember that in '10, there was some depression as we paid National Indemnity to take the asbestos environmental liabilities off the books. So absent that, about $1.8 billion payment, would have been also $5 billion cash flow year. We have attempted to maintain and set a target for maintaining cash at the holding company equal to approximately 1 years of our future corporate obligations, meaning shareholder dividends and payments, interest payments on the debt, as well as any debt that needed to be potentially retired, so we're holding slightly above that amount at present. And you can see the total sources of liquidity and cash that we have are more than 3x our forward obligations at present if you consider, also, the bank facility as well as the dividend capacity in the operating companies.

On the investment side, we are conservatively invested and I think, certainly, prudently invested for the construct of the company and the company's liabilities. We have, over time, highly-prized liquidity and diversification as we think of -- as well as quality, as we've invested. You can see that the vast majority of our investments, the biggest portion is in investment-grade corporate debt and the second would be in the municipal markets, both taxable and tax-exempt. We also are disciplined asset liability managers so we segregate the portfolios to better manage them, so to ensure that we are matching the liability durations differently and investing differently for the life portfolio than we're are for the P&C portfolio. So we set different targets for both of those businesses. But I say, certainly we have acted to eliminate a great degree of idiosyncratic risk as well, in these portfolios, as you can see by both liquidity as well as -- we do not take much more than $200 million in any individual name in terms of risk.

Further, to the investment income, we have generated a pretty steady amount of investment income over the past several years. As you can see, both from the fixed portfolio, we do invest about 5% to 6% of the portfolio in hedge funds, and we do that in lieu of equity investment allocation. And we've done that for a number of years at CNA and that has provided -- it was constructed so as to give us a bit of long equity bias but with much less volatility and, actually, better returns over time. So we've averaged over 10% return over 10 years and the highs and lows, while this is certainly more volatile than the fixed environment, it's much less volatile that if we had invested in a capital -- in the S&P 500. So equity-type returns with much better consistency and much better annualized performance.

We mentioned earlier, we are very proud of the work we've done over the years that I've been here, in reducing our dependence on reinsurance. So we've, through aggressive management, both in purchasing forward as well as commutations, we've actually eliminated over $10 billion of reinsurance recoverables and put that money to work as earning assets, as well as eliminated the credit -- associated credit and administrative burden that comes with reinsurance. We now have less than $3 billion of that $6 billion of outstanding balances that are unsecured, and a majority of those balances are really with the National Indemnity deal on asbestos environmental, which -- of which is -- those are secured by a collateral trust.

As far as favorable reserve development, the P&C business, you can see our track record over the last bunch of years. And I would suggest that -- if you looked at this favorable development as a percentage of reserves, you'd see that it has been pretty consistent with the very best performers across the industry, and certainly, a well-established track record of favorable reserve development.

On the capital front, we've been guided by those objectives that I laid out earlier in this presentation. And we've been fairly active over the last 3 years, as we restructured the balance sheet, to eliminate very expensive preferred debt that we had sold to Lowe's in the height of the financial crisis in '08, and as we restructured and refinanced debt. We have -- by the milestone transaction, was the sale of the asbestos environmental liabilities to Berkshire Hathaway, which we completed in the second quarter of 2010. We've also sold a small Argentine work-camp only company that we own, and we sold our 50% interest in a joint venture, a small domestic Hawaiian insurance company that we owned with Tokio Marine. We have reinvested those proceeds in buying-in the outstanding stub of the Surety business, which we previously owned 60%. Now we own 100% of that business, fits our specialty franchise and focus going forward. And last year, we closed on the acquisition of Hardy Underwriters Bermuda, which is a prominent Lloyd's franchise. We've also consistently acted, to first reestablish and then increase the common shareholder dividend over time.

The source of this information is from JPMorgan research, but I show you this more to suggest that the markets are ahead of the rating agencies. We have a tendency to use this with the rating agencies when we meet with them, asking when they're going to catch up to you all and everybody else. You can see that CNA debt has outperformed, significantly, the BBB index, and we trade more like 1 to 2 notches higher than the current ratings, so -- which why we think is consistent with our view about the capital strength and financial stability of the company.

In terms of consistency of performance, in terms of operating income, you can see that revenues and income are relatively consistent, although flat over the past 3 years. The revenue took a small dip in '11, that's really reflective of the limited partnership income as I showed you earlier which is a much smaller return in '11 that it was in both '12 and '10. Overall revenues, otherwise, have been steady in terms of P&C business, been growing in Specialty and relatively flat in Commercial, although that we have begun to grow in both businesses as we ended 2012. Net income also consistent. We've been a positive moneymaker since 2006, in this business, and that's despite a pretty heavy catastrophe tolls in both 2011 and 2012, which really has kind of slowed the increase in earnings. Most importantly I think we are proud of the consistent book value growth that we have demonstrated over the -- over these last 4 years, and you can also see the improvement that we have made in the non-cat accident loss ratio over 4 years. And, really, most all of that is improvements in underwriting selection and in mix improvement, and the rate environment is just beginning, second half of the year, to kick in and have an impact on our ability to improve our margins in the business.

Our Specialty business is really equal to any and all of our very best peers. It has produced combined ratios on a calendar year basis, in the mid- to high-80s, over these 4-year time period. What I've shown you here is the accident year combines, which have been ticking up a little bit. We've before, in the calls, about some frequency increase in professional lines, most of which have been driven by the economy and economic effects on employment practices, liability, as well as some of our professional liability segments. But on a calendar year basis, as I said, we have consistently been in the 80s combined ratio. We're certainly equal to, if not better than, most every peer. And I think, more importantly, we've been more consistent than peers. And part of that is that our Specialty business is not a big lumpy, high risk-taking business. It's much more a highly concentrated in industry groups business. So as I mentioned before, we write heavy degree of concentration as we specialized in accountancy. We write 25,000 accounting firms across the United States with the endorsement of AICPA. We write a similar amount of dental practices and lawyers. So we get -- and that's the same with architects and engineers. And what we get in that is a high degree of concentration, similar looking risks and improved ability to price and differentiate. And that's been a -- that is really the strength, and has been the strength, of this business. So specialization as well as risk diversification over time. As you can see, we did begin to get some pretty healthy rate increases, and really, those began in the fourth quarter of 2012. But that momentum has been building, really did build throughout the course of the year. It is an important change from the rate declines that this business has suffered over any number of years beforehand. And we've been able to achieve those rate -- drive those rate increases, as you can see, without any decline in our retention rate of business. So certainly healthy statistics.

On the Commercial side, which is a business that we've been working hard to fix, that had been a chronic underperformer for CNA. You can see, on the accident year combined ratio, that we have made a little bit more than 3 points, almost 4 points of improvement over these last 4 years. Again, by mix, it's that's still quite a bit to go, but we are driving significant rate in with business, and we're getting rate increases, really, for the last 4 years, in this business. And we have been making what we feel are appropriate trade-offs in rate and retention as we remake and improve the performance of this business.

You can see here just the impact -- really the -- as we look at our competitive position in commercial lines, the biggest differentiator is our loss ratio, disadvantage, so we have closed that or improved that loss ratio by about 4 points, as I said, over the 4 years, with most improvement accelerating in 2011 and 2012. We do look at ourselves against the very best competitive peer set. We had over -- really 12-point disadvantage in '09 and we've narrowed that to slightly less than 9 over this period of time and that's been our -- really expense ratio disadvantage more like 2 or 3 points with the better peers, and the majority is loss ratio. So as we prove our ability to quantify risk and price business, as well as attract the kind of business we want, we would expect those trends to continue, if not accelerate, as we move forward.

One of the keys to improving this business has been to better select, as well as to price risk. So our ability to not just lay a rate and perhaps generate adverse return. What's been more important is to differentiate our pricing to fit the risk characteristics of the business we're underwriting. And you can see how well, in both our middle markets business and in our small business, we've been able to drive significant differences in terms of what rate we get based on how we tier the business, and those are tiered by our expectations about future loss possibilities in those business lines. And our retention of the worst business, certainly a lot worse or a lot lower than our retention of the best performing business. So that's a key, really, to this business overall. If you can't quantify and price risk effectively, you can't compete and win, and we think our ability to do that has been improving considerably over time. And we would expect -- I mean that's a significant focus for us as we move forward.

This, just to give you a little bit of a profile of Hardy and the business that we bought. Hardy, as I said, is a Lloyd's underwriter. We invested, really, first in Lloyd's. We looked at it because we wanted access to this $34 billion marketplace. We thought that was a much more efficient play than attempting to plant flags in different countries and expand over time. So this gives us -- this Hardy acquisition gives us access to this $34 billion Lloyd's marketplace. Hardy fits our specialization because they're a highly specialized underwriter. As we look at Lloyd's, we saw that Lloyd's had outperformed U.S. P&C marketplace by about 10 combined ratio points over the last 10 years, and Hardy has been, generally, a top quartile performer at Lloyd's. They've actually outperformed the Lloyd's average by about 6 points over that same timeframe. Hardy's largely a first party property underwriter. So it's a nice complimentary mix to CNA's generally heavy casualty book. Hardy specializes, really, in 4 business segments. The drivers, really being in the most prominent, being the marine, aviation and energy segment, as well as their direct and facultative property segment. They had a healthy, but relatively small specialty business. And their property tree business, which have been the source of some problems, and really, the opportunity -- which created the opportunity for our acquisition as suffered some outsized losses from international cat events. We're in the process of, really, remaking that business at this time. And you'll see us, really, take down that revenue that was in that business, probably by as much as 2/3 or more as we rebuild that business, but the franchise is really the other 3 business segments and those are all performing very well.

We have a sizable, as I said, life and group runoff operation. This gives you a bit of a sense of how big the reserves are in those -- each of those business. So primarily, it's long-term care reserves, both individual and group, and relatively equal proportions in terms of the number of customers, although most of these reserves are individual long-term care reserves. We also have a fairly sizable payout annuity and structured settlement, reserves are runoff. As I said these businesses have been a run off since 2003, 2004. Performs -- they have been a drag on the results, but I will tell you that they also been relatively consistent and these are businesses -- are going to play out over very long period of time in terms of performance. They are very actively managed by us in terms of the levers that we can play and pull to affect the outcomes and we're not just administering or accepting the results that we generated so far. We are acting to file for rate increases. We actually just filed for pretty substantial rate increases across 40% of the policies, it just came off a 10-year rate guarantee. We are acting on -- continuously acting on how we might improve the claim operations and reduce expenses. And as I talked before, we're going to talk about investments. I think we're very prudently and soundly construct our investment portfolio to match the liability durations of these businesses.

So, having said all that. I'd just conclude by saying what you should really expect from us going forward is more of the same, more continued focus, continued specialization as we think that's the future, to drive performance of the business, continue to focus on simplifying our operations and our enterprise.

So I'll stop now and happy to take any questions that, Arun, you might have or anybody in the audience might have.

Question-and-Answer Session

Unknown Attendee

I have a question. As you move through the simplification of your business lines, you're obviously selecting certain lines and kind of moving away from others, and you mentioned size, growth, profitability and your skill sets. How do you think about the correlation of the businesses as you make those decisions? How do you think about interest rates, changes in employment levels, the general economy? Does that factor into your decision on direction you're moving in? What do the rating agencies think about the increased focus as opposed to a more diversified book of business?

D. Craig Mense

I think that -- thanks, those are great questions. And I think that the first reaction to the rating agency is to -- that focus was that we were narrowing diversification. But I think they have come to think of it, now, I believe, and am comfortable that they do, that they think of -- the power of diversification is really what kind of diversification you have with the risk of the customers you're underwriting rather than how many different businesses you might have. Because then you -- there's no reason to just rise or fall with the industry results, or perhaps with the worst of the industry results, by attempting to do all things. So we certainly lack the scale, at the moment, to attempt to do that. As well as -- we think that the way future is you sell the products and to the customers you understand and where you think you can make a profit. So I think they now better understand and see and prize that. And I hope -- I believe, as we tell our story about risk diversification -- as an example, when I told you about -- relative to how many accounting firms and like-minded, and we really had those markets and have been in those markets for 20-plus years. I think that's a more powerful diversification than having a bunch of different businesses to move in and out of. So our strategy has been to be deep and long in industries, and we think we can differentiate our delivery of both product and service, and retain and sell on something more than price, those industry groups. We actually -- I make a practice of attempting to meet with these customers when they come in. I met with the AICPA most recently. I meet with construction groups, when they come in, and ask them, are we delivering on the promise, and what I hear from contractors are, as an example of that, yes, you are, because you are -- what you are doing is helping me reduce the cost of the number of claims through risk control claim as well as underwriting pricing, so you're making me be more competitive to acquire jobs and therefore, I can grow. So I think we're doing more than just competing on price to win customers by reducing the overall cost of operations. By sitting with someone, like the head of the AICPA, we can have a conversation on where they think the future of the profession is headed, how do we need to be constructing coverages, how do we need to be delivering risk control advice to those customers. So I'm a huge believer in that and I think others are starting to understand and appreciate it. I don't know that rating agencies fully do. We certainly don't get any, I don't think, negative from that, particularly, any longer. And quite honestly -- I mean, I care, but I -- this is how we think we're running the business, we think the future of the business. Now, we certainly look at correlation, and as I said, we looked at the growth prospects, I mean the economic growth -- those businesses. Construction has certainly been hurt, and the economy, and certain demand has been dampened. But the construction industry is a huge portion of the insurance in non-life, insurance industry demands. So if you're not going to not participate in construction, you'd be lopping off a huge amount of it. And as a -- and that really -- that decision is more a base of -- we had a long-standing practice where we had considerable share and where we were profitable, and had been for a considerable amount of time, actually outperforming the rest of our middle market P&C businesses. So health care was picked because we see growth industry and demand growth, as well as we have expertise. So it's a bit of a balance in all those things. If that's answering -- I hope I'm answering your question.

Unknown Analyst

You said CNA was the seventh largest P&C company today. Where was it 5 years ago? Where do you think it will be 5 years from now?

D. Craig Mense

I don't know exactly where it was 5 years ago. I bet it was probably similar size in terms of share although we have -- over time, the business -- as the business was being fixed -- recall, the business got in trouble in late 90s, early 2000s. So, certainly, its share has declined over that period of time. It stabilized over the last 4 years, in terms of where we are. Many of the businesses are quite a bit -- that are ranked above us are quite a bit larger. So I think we, in my view, share -- or that size ranking, something more you end up with than you necessarily focus on, but I think that we would expect to expand share and expand the scale of it. We haven't established a particular objective of where we want to be or where were likely to be in terms of that ranking. But, certainly, our expectation is to be among the best performing companies on a margin basis, and we think that we can achieve both growth in top line, as well as bottom. Our focus, at the moment, is improving margins, and we think that the growth prospects are there. But they won’t be as fast, that's not the primary motivator at the moment. As I said, we think we can accomplish both over a period of time.

Unknown Analyst

Craig, when you're looking at your growth opportunities, both on balance sheet and with Hardy's, what is your capital allocation priorities there? And just broadly, in terms of capital management or capital allocation priorities on the balance sheet.

D. Craig Mense

So, in capital allocations to the businesses, where we think the growth prospects are? Well, Hardy is a relatively small -- and, certainly, operating through Lloyd's pretty efficient capital vehicle. So we can trade -- we have a -- we acquired Hardy for $230 million. We actually have invested another $100 million of capital to support that business going forward. So we think -- Hardy, last year, generated $430 million of gross written premium, for a full year basis. I mean, that's not what hit CNA's balance sheet because we didn't -- results, because we didn't have it for the full year. But if you think about that in proportion to a $34 billion market, you can see that there's some considerable opportunities, we think, for share improvement there. And business, it's been a very well performing business. We also have really changed our allocation of capital to Specialty and Commercial businesses. We do see growth prospects, and we are growing across both commercial and specialty businesses in the fourth quarter.

Unknown Analyst

Does it change your view on your mix between your domestic U.S. businesses and International businesses just given, traditionally and historically, you've been focused primarily in the U.S.?

D. Craig Mense

I think -- I mean the percentage growth of opportunities are higher internationally, but we think there's significant amount of U.S. growth prospects still. We're seventh largest, there's still a lot of room for us to take share and improve. So we do have -- there's certainly opportunities, we think, in Europe. But over time. And I think that's perhaps a little diminished -- obviously diminished because of the economic situation there. We think there's certainly opportunities in Canada, which is healthy to grow. But I think that, really, much of the growth is driven by economic of economic health and economic-driven demand. And right now, we see that more in the U.S. and Canada, and then some International markets, less so than in Europe, that we would access through Hardy.

Unknown Analyst

As you're implementing rate increases, maybe this is more on the commercial side, are your customers maybe making changes in terms and conditions to help offset those price increases that we may see enure to you as a benefit to the combined ratio?

D. Craig Mense

Actually, less so. I mean the rate increases have been broad-based across product, and across both specialty and commercial, actually accelerating in specialty and they're needed in specialty. And we've been saying that for some period of time. We think everybody else is kind of catching up to that need for that. But there have been -- I would say terms and conditions have not changed considerably, nor have we we've seen much in the way of a request for those, except on the extremes. So nothing that would be impactful on the business broadly.

Arun N. Kumar - JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division

Thank you. Unfortunately, we ran out of time. Craig, thank you very much.

D. Craig Mense

Thank you, everyone. Thank you, everybody.

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