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The Phoenix Companies, Inc. (NYSE:PNX)

Q4 2010 Earnings Call

February 10, 2011 10:00 a.m. ET

Executives

Naomi Kleinman – Head Investor Relations

James D. Wehr – President and Chief Executive Officer

Peter A. Hofmann – Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Christopher M. Wilkos – Executive Vice President and Chief Investment Officer

Philip K. Polkinghorn – Senior Executive Vice President, Business Development

Analysts

Robert Glasspiegel – Langen McAlenney.

Andrew S. Kligerman – UBS Securities, LLC.

Steven D. Schwartz – Raymond James.

Operator

Welcome to the Phoenix Fourth Quarter 2010 Earnings Conference Call. Thank you for standing by. All participants will be in a listen-only mode until the question-and-answer session. (Operator Instructions)

I will now turn the call over to the Head of Phoenix Investor Relations, Naomi Kleinman. You may begin.

Naomi Kleinman

Good morning and thank you for joining us. I’m going to start with the required disclosures and then turn it over to Jim Wehr, our President and CEO, for an overview of the quarter. With us today are Peter Hofmann, Chief Financial Officer; Chris Wilkos, Chief Investment Officer; Phil Polkinghorn, Senior Executive Vice President for Business Development; and Mike Hanrahan, Chief Accounting Officer.

Our fourth quarter earnings release, our quarterly financial supplement and the fourth quarter earnings review presentation are available on our website at phoenixwm.com. Slide 2 of the presentation contains the important disclosures.

We may make forward-looking statements on this call that are subject to certain risks and uncertainties. These risks and uncertainties are discussed in detail in our fourth quarter earnings release and our latest SEC filings.

Our actual results may differ materially from such forward-looking statements. In addition to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, we use non-GAAP financial measures to evaluate our financial results. Reconciliation’s of these non-GAAP financial measures to the applicable GAAP measures are included in our press release and financial supplement.

Now, I will turn the call over to Jim.

James D. Wehr

Thanks, Naomi. And thanks to everyone for joining our call. I recognize that it’s a busy day and a busy week for many of you. This morning as usual Peter Hofmann will review our financial results and Chris Wilkos will bring you up to-date on our investment portfolio.

As we begin 2011, my report on Phoenix is consistent with the improved tone in the economy and the financial markets. In short while challenges remain we are making steady progress on a number of fronts particularly on the four strategic pillars we focused on so intently over the last two years.

Before I get into the detail let me list some key measures as we ended 2010. Statutory capital and RBC are up. Earnings and investment income both up, annuity sales and Saybrus results also up. And credit impairments, surrenders and expenses all improved.

Although results for the quarter and full year bore the effects of challenges like the low interest rate environment the fundamentals of our business namely mortality, persistency and investment performance are sound and help generate almost $39 million in core earnings for the year.

Further we continue to strengthen the balance sheet and demonstrated Phoenix’s ability to achieve profitable growth. Let me take you through where we stand on each of the pillars beginning with our balance sheet.

As you may remember this was our foremost priority as 2009 unfolded. Now, as we close out 2010 we are substantially stronger than those tough days of 2009 where statutory surplus up 33% and RBC about 60 points higher than just a year ago.

In 2011 statutory capital in RBC will remain an important priority, although we expect the pace of improvement to moderate as our growth initiatives take hold. Chris will speak more about our portfolio results but I want to highlight the positive impact investment performance had on our financial results and capital position.

All of us are pleased by our improving balance sheet metrics over the last year, such as an investment portfolio that is now in a net unrealized gain position, full-year net investment income up 7% to $845 million.

Credit impairments continuing to moderate and a substantial drop in the percentage of below investment grade bonds. This performance is a credit to Chris and the Goodwin team and further evidence of our core competency in investments. Beyond the portfolio, from a balance sheet perspective we have adequate holding company liquidity and modest leverage.

Next pillar two, policyholder security or policyholder service as we now call it, the key metric here is always been persistency. And we did well in this area throughout the year as surrender activity declined across-the-board. For example, in life insurance, fourth quarter annualized surrenders were 7.6% versus 10.3% a year ago and annuity surrenders also improved over the course of the year.

We credit these improvements to both our conservation outreach as well as our improving financial conditions. Improved financials provide greater comfort for all of our business partners including producers who sold the Phoenix products over the years. As we look to 2011, conservation efforts will continue as we put more focus on enhancing and streamlining how we provide service to producers and policyholders.

The 2010 report card for expense management, our third pillar is also good. Core statutory expenses are down 15% versus 2009 and core GAAP expenses before deferrals are down 12%. In 2011, our focus on expenses will be somewhat broader as we go beyond near-term expense reductions to get our operational efficiencies to help us grow profitably over the long-term.

Let me now spend a few minutes on our fourth pillar sustainable and profitable growth. When I look back over the last 18 to 24 months, we’ve made considerable progress. Let’s be clear, we’re not declaring victory, not even close. We still have work to do across many fronts, but our growth initiatives are gaining traction and with the progress we’ve made on the first three pillars, we’re now in a position of further sharpen our focus on growth in 2011.

Traction in our repositioned annuity product line is obvious as sales grew 55% from 2009. We now have meaningful annuity sales volume and as we rebuild this business it is essential we balance profitable growth with risk management discipline. Our annuity distribution is primarily through Independent Marketing Organizations or IMOs. And in 2010, we established targeted distribution arrangements based on exclusive access to particular products which can be an important differentiator in this marketplace.

The first of these was a strategic alliance with the AltiSure Group were we company-developed an indexed annuity that is only available through AltiSure member IMOs. More recently, we from the Plan Right Partners group of IMOs that are exclusive distributors of two single premium indexed annuity series.

They also have exclusive access to Phoenix planning program and can sell a number of other Phoenix products. Eight IMOs are currently participating in this program, several of which had existing relationships with Phoenix.

Saybrus Partners continues to build momentum in third-party insurance sales with Edward Jones, Wells Fargo with and National Life. It is on track to break-even in the first quarter of 2011

When you look at our growth efforts, you see a consistent pattern of leveraging core competencies were Phoenix has always excelled, product development and marketing, distribution and partnering. What we are doing now is bringing those core skills and others we develop to markets where we can compete successfully.

In sum, we demonstrated in 2010 that where we focus, we produce results. Much of our focus last year remained on the first three pillars, fundamentally all of which related to financial strength and we turned in solid performance and substantial improvement.

While some of that improvement came naturally as the markets recovered much was a direct result of hard work and commitment to strategy and execution. We were happy to see that hard work recognize earlier this week as A.M. Best revised our rating outlook to stable and affirmed our current ratings.

In 2011 we will continue to strengthen our balance sheet, provide service that helps can serve our sizable enforce business and pursue additional ways to increase our operational efficiency and manage expenses and we are in a position now to focus more intensely on pillar number four, profitable growth.

Our success in repositioning our annuity product line, attracting distributors and establishing alliances all show that there is acceptance of Phoenix in the middle market. So we expect to see continued profitable growth and annuity sales and we will continue to pursue opportunities in life insurance and alternative retirement products.

With Saybrus, we achieve what we set out to do in 2010, getting established with significant clients. As I mentioned before, we fully expect Saybrus to break-even in the first quarter and I’d add that we expect to achieve modest profitability over the course of 2011. We look forward to keeping you updated on our progress.

And with that, I'm going to turn it over to Peter and Chris and we’ll take your questions after their presentations. Peter?

Peter A. Hofmann

Thanks, Jim. A summary of our fourth quarter GAAP and statutory financial results is shown on slide 3. GAAP operating earnings were solid at $17.8 million of $0.15 per share before tax expenses. Insurance fundamentals in the quarter were good. Mortality margins were strong and persistency continued to improve in most areas.

The fourth quarter equity markets benefited us and the annuity and VUL product lines and helped operating earnings. However, the market rally resulted in losses on derivatives used to hedge statutory surplus. We had strong net investment income driven primarily by very good alternative asset returns. And the investment portfolio continued to improve with lower credit impairments and a lower percentage of below investment grade bonds.

Helped by these fundamentals, we continue to generate statutory capital. Statutory surplus grew by $26 million in the quarter, for the full year it is up 33%. RBC declined somewhat in the quarter from our third quarter estimates due to the strong equity market and the smoothing that’s required by the C3 Phase II capital calculations. For the full year, RBC increased by about 60 percentage points to a current estimate of 284%.

Finally as Jim discussed, we are gaining traction in index annuity sales. Annuity sales in the fourth quarter were $136 million bringing full year sales to $221 million. And annuity net flows turned positive in the fourth quarter.

A more detailed earnings summary is shown on slide 4. Open block revenues continued to improve from the last three quarters driven by a net investment income. Chris will provide additional color on this.

Benefits were level with the third quarter largely reflecting good mortality results. Recall that the third quarter included a favorable reserve unlocking. Policy Acquisition Cost Amortization was lower than last quarter and a year ago. Both of the prior periods included additional amortization related to DAC unlocking.

Expenses were $67.9 million higher than last quarter and a year ago. The increase was driven by a higher premium taxes and some non-recurring expenses partially offset by lower pension costs.

The regulatory closed block contribution of $14.3 million is consistent with the drive path of the block established at the time of the mutualization. Based on this drive path closed block pre-tax income will step down in 2011 to about $2.4 million per quarter.

Moving below the operating line to realized investment losses, the main driver in the quarter was $13 million related to a surplus hedge we had in place in order to mitigate the impact of equity market declines on our statutory surplus. Given the strong market performance the hedge assets declined in value.

In addition, we had a $16 million impact from the non-performance risk factor that is used to discount the GAAP liability related to our living benefits. It's important to note that as of the impact of this nonperformance risk factor our hedge program performed well in the quarter and for the year the program had a modest gain of $2.6 million.

We also had a modest charge in our discontinued group accident and health reinsurance business as a result of a number of commutations that were completed. Slide 5, highlights the trends in operating earnings and spikes out discrete items that affect operating income comparisons.

This quarter we recorded a $10 million tax expense. As we have indicated in prior calls, for operating earnings comparisons we are currently using a 0% effective tax rate. Deviations from this tax rate are driven by the GAAP interperiod tax allocation rules. Tracking out this item gives us the adjusted operating EPS of $0.15, which is about even with the third quarter.

Book value per share declined by $0.88 to $10.84. The decrease was driven by a decline in the market value bonds in our portfolio due to rising rates and the GAAP net loss in the quarter.

Turning to our insurance fundamentals, slide 6 shows mortality cost ratios for the open and close blocks. The open block benefit ratio was favorable at 44.7%, taking into account DAC offsets the favorable open block mortality benefited pretax earnings by about $5 million in the fourth quarter. Full year mortality was also favorable.

Experience in the closed block was within our expectations for the quarter and modestly worse than expected for the full year. As a reminder, because of the policyholder dividend obligation closed block mortality experience does not directly affect GAAP earnings, the story on surrenders is also a good one.

Slide 7, shows annualized aggregate surrender rates based on contract value surrender. Annualized life surrenders were at 7.6 %, the lowest level since the fourth quarter of 2008. Annualized annuity surrenders were 11.9%, level with last quarter.

We continue to focus on controlling expenses. Slide 8, shows consolidated statutory in GAAP expenses adjusted for non-core items. The expense reductions we have taken over the last two years are clearly visible driven primarily by lower employee related costs. 2010 core statutory expenses were down 15% versus 2009 and before deferrals, GAAP expenses were down 12%.

Let me spend a moment on our RBC ratio which has improved significantly versus year-end 2009. As shown on slide 9, total adjusted capital improved by 22% to $893 million as of December 31, 2010. Risk-based capital dropped 4% to $315 million. Core life insurance results and alternative asset returns were key drivers for the improvement in our risk-based capital ratio.

Also contributing to the growth was the improvement in the markets which positively affected annuity reserves, net of derivatives and which lowered our market risk, Credit impairments, dividends paid to the whole company and increased interest rate risk modestly offset the improvements.

With improving capital ratios, low investment losses and better core earnings we have improved capital flexibility heading into 2011. Based on our statutory surplus at year-end we have theoretical regulatory dividend capacity of approximately $65 million in 2011. Holding company liquidity was $58.9 million in cash and securities as of December 31. Remember, we have no debt maturities until 2032.

And with that I'll turn it over to Chris.

Christopher M. Wilkos

Thanks Peter. The investment portfolio is integral to our strong balance sheet and its performance in the fourth quarter enhanced our position. The Phoenix portfolio produced solid result in key areas including a sharp increase in net investment income, reduced bond impairments and stronger credit quality.

Let’s start with net investment income on slide 10, which increased sequentially by $34.4 million. $22 million of that increase was a result of very strong alternative asset returns, particularly in Venture capital, Mezzanine and another partnership and trusts.

Our alternative portfolio has been carefully constructed over many years with investments in top tier funds. This quarter’s performance reflects both the rebound in domestic equity markets as well as the underlying quality of the partnerships in our portfolio. Given the one quarter lag in partnership accounting and a strong stock market at the fourth quarter, we expect continued strong performance from the alternative portfolio in the first quarter of 2011.

Income from long-term debt securities also increased. As a result of improvements in mark-to-market structured securities and increased levels of prepayment income, both of which may not be sustained in future quarters.

On slide 11, credit impairments declined in the fourth quarter to $10.8 million. Impairments were spread among several different sectors. We had no impairments in corporate bonds, which comprised the largest percentage of our overall portfolio. Our private placement bond holdings also suffered no impairments reflecting the quality in covenants inhered in those investments.

Our impairment experience reflects both the decline in overall market default rates and our ongoing efforts to manage our credit exposure. With default rates projected to continue to decline, we expect to see sustained improvement in credit impairments in 2011.

Lower impairments during 2010 compared with 2009 have helped to strengthen our balance sheet. Please also recall that we have virtually no commercial home loans and therefore have no impairments in that asset class.

Slide 12, illustrates the year-over-year improvement in the market value that Phoenix fixed income portfolio since year-end 2008. Falling treasury rates and tightening credits spreads produced improved valuations.

In 2010 in particular all segments corporate bonds, mortgage backed securities and asset-backed securities saw improvement in market values. Our CMBS segment comprising 11% of fixed income assets is in an unrealized gain position, while this segment had significant unrealized losses during the credit crisis due to irrational pricing, our belief was always that our holdings were high quality and well protected from losses.

This belief had been borne out by the current unrealized gains. The improvement in portfolio valuations in 2009 and 2010 has been a prime factor in strengthening our balance sheet and enhancing surplus.

As shown on slide 13, we have significantly improved the credit quality of the portfolio over the last year, reducing the below investment grade ratio from 10.8% of bonds to 8.7% at the end of the year.

We have been able to achieve this reduction and our high yield position over the last several quarters with virtually no losses and sales and dispositions. Our investment policy specifies the high yield bond range of 6% to 10% of total bonds.

Operating within this range we will continue to look for tactical opportunities to reduce low investment grade holdings. But we will carefully balance that against the need for the yield that these assets produce.

As a reminder we continue to produce our quarterly investment portfolio supplement, which is available on our website, and which provides much more granularity on our investments.

With that I'll turn the call back over to Jim.

James D. Wehr

Thanks Chris. As you heard this morning we made considerable progress in 2010 as evidenced by meaningful improvement in statutory capital, surrender activity and expenses in earnings. These improvements position us to increase our focus on profitable sources of growth in 2011.

Sarah, let’s open up the lines for questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

Thank you, sir. (Operator Instructions) And first question from Bob Glasspiegel with Langen McAlenney. Your line is open.

Robert Glasspiegel – Langen McAlenney

Good morning, I was wondering if you guys would be kind enough to walk me through a little bit the statuary earnings which were very strong in the quarter more than the operating earnings and why that didn’t drive a bigger increase in statuary capital surplus, if you have a reconciliation or just, the earnings to the balance sheet?

James D. Wehr

Bob, I’m going to turn that to Peter and let him respond. Peter?

Peter A. Hofmann

Bob, I will answer your question in one moment. It was pointed out to me that I missed, may have miss sited a number in my script.

Robert Glasspiegel – Langen McAlenney

And as you look at the $764 million of stat capital went up about $27 million on the balance sheet, you had a $100 million or so of earnings?

Peter A. Hofmann

No, I understand the question that the issue was unrelated to your question that I want to clarify, before we answer your question?

Robert Glasspiegel – Langen McAlenney

Okay.

Peter A. Hofmann

It’s on page 4 of the earnings summary that I had provided. I believe I may have miss stated the closed block contribution that we expect in 2011. That contribution should be $12.4 million per quarter on a pre-tax basis. So in case that number did not come across, clearly I wanted to clarify that. With that, I will turn to your question, Bob. The two major items that caused a very strong gain from operations and net income numbers at Phoenix Life are; the first is the fact that we did reduce the policyholder dividend index in the quarter and that contributed to the earnings by about $53 million or so.

Robert Glasspiegel – Langen McAlenney

Is that really the catch up for the year?

Peter A. Hofmann

No, it’s a when you reduce the scale, the dividend liability for 2010 really reflects the 2011 dividend to be paid, it’s immediately reduced. So that's one reason for the strong increase in earnings.

The second reason is that we, dividend that from a subsidiary Phoenix Life, it proceeds from the sale of Philadelphia Financial Group and a small life insurance entity that we sold along with Philadelphia Financial Group. And those proceeds were dividend up to Phoenix Life that is a surplus neutral number. It's on the order of $28 million.

So it's the intracompany dividend. The reason that surplus did not go up more even if you take out the dividend is largely due to the unrealized losses on derivatives similar to the GAAP side, the statutory surplus hedge that we had in place created an unrealized gain, I'm sorry an unrealized loss as well derivatives related to our hedging program for variable annuity living benefits, we planned in market value. So there was some unrealized losses below the income line that offset the strong gain from operations.

Robert Glasspiegel – Langen McAlenney

Okay.

Peter A. Hofmann

And that we can certainly…

Robert Glasspiegel – Langen McAlenney

That's very helpful. The cash apparent, went by how much, to $50 million?

Peter A. Hofmann

About went up by, I want to say approximately $12 million to $13 million. We paid about $12.5 million of dividend in the quarter.

Robert Glasspiegel – Langen McAlenney

Okay. And one last question if I could sneak in, what’s the capital associate with Saybrus?

Peter A. Hofmann

There is, what we have been doing as we have been funding the start up costs at Saybrus from the holding company as that company has generated earnings we have, not have to contribute as much capital. Overall in 2010, we contributed approximately, get the number I have, I believed it is $15 million of capital we’ll confirm that number.

Robert Glasspiegel – Langen McAlenney

Super. Thank you.

Operator

(Operator Instructions) Next question from Steven Schwartz Raymond James and associates. Your line is open. One moment please. Gentlemen, at this point in time we have lost Schwartz. We’ll wait to see if he does dial back in for his question. In the meantime (Operator Instructions). And our next question from Andrew Kligerman with UBS securities. Your lines open

Andrew S. Kligerman – UBS Securities, LLC.

Yes, good morning and Peter can maybe you talk a little bit about that so called smoothing calculation on the risk-based capital and why it went down? I think you’ve mentioned C3 Phase II, but if you could, just give a little more color around that.

Peter A. Hofmann

Sure Andrew, I’ll do that. Basically what occurs is that, when we calculate the annuity capital, the C3 Phase II capital, we have to take a weighted average of several periods of equity market levels.

So it's about 60% in the current period and then successive lower weights of some prior periods including some 2008 and 2009 year-end levels. The capital calculation is therefore does not fully reflect the improvement in the current period equity markets.

Andrew S. Kligerman – UBS Securities, LLC.

I see.

Peter A. Hofmann

On the flipside, the reserve calculation does. So there is a reserve calculation under A.G. 43 is not smooth and so you a total asset requirement that increases or rather changes in the period, it may increase or decrease.

The reserve can come down quite significantly because of the current period market performance, but the capital actually does so with a lag or with a smooth effect and so there is actually an increase in the capital requirement that can occur even in a rising market. The impact of that if we were, we did not do smoothing, we would have picked up an additional 10 points of RBC or so relative to what we had in the quarter.

Andrew S. Kligerman – UBS Securities, LLC.

Thank you and then just in the release you had mentioned that Saybrus formed this some Plan Right Partners group of distribution firms, could you give a little more color on that?

Peter A. Hofmann

Yeah, I am going to ask Phil to address that Andrew.

Philip K. Polkinghorn

Sure, we have a product, the Reflections Gold product that we've made available exclusively to eight independent marketing organizations that are part of this group, our Plan Right Partners.

There is also a Phoenix developed proprietary selling system called Plan Right, Retire Right that is used by us. So it’s, in exchange for proprietary access to this product, we get a stronger commitment for sales and sales promotion efforts on behalf of that group.

Andrew S. Kligerman – UBS Securities, LLC.

All right, okay. Thanks very much.

Operator

Next question is from Steven Schwartz with Raymond James. Your line is open.

Steven D. Schwartz – Raymond James

Hey, good morning. I’ll try not to drop the phone this time. Just some quickies if I may here. The slide detail in the alternative investment income, the strong net investment income, could we delve into that a little bit more? It wasn’t clear to me, these alternative asset returns, is this for the entire business or was that $29 million just for the open block, that won’t make any sense, I don’t think?

James D. Wehr

Chris?

Christopher M. Wilkos

On slide 10, there is a breakout at the top of the slide, wide open and closed blocks. If you net the lines, let’s say other invested assets and venture capital, it calculates about $11.7 million was in the open block and another $17.3 million was in the closed block for the quarter.

Steven D. Schwartz – Raymond James

$17.3 million, was in the…

Christopher M. Wilkos

The closed blocks.

Steven D. Schwartz – Raymond James

Wait a minute, we’re netting the Venture capital, the $9.7 million with $42.6 million. That’s…

Christopher M. Wilkos

No, there is actually a line that says other invested assets.

Steven D. Schwartz – Raymond James

Okay, the $19.3 million.

Christopher M. Wilkos

And then we are open and closed blocks and then if you combine that with Venture capital, those represent the total of our alternative assets.

Steven D. Schwartz – Raymond James

Okay, so the $11.9 million plus to $20.9 million is what was in the alternative within the open blocks?

Christopher M. Wilkos

It lines two and three, other investment assets cost venture capital, those two lines combined.

Steven D. Schwartz – Raymond James

Okay, alright. 11.7, okay, very good. Little busy this morning, I apologize. And then just on the tax rate for 2011, Peter that should still be zero, right?

Peter A. Hofmann

Yes, we still have a full valuation allowance against our deferred tax assets and so ask them some of the GAAP accounting rules, we would expect a 0% tax rate.

Steven D. Schwartz – Raymond James

Okay, and then Jim you haven't been willing to in the past, I’m hoping maybe you will this time around, could you given that you’re expecting Saybrus to be breakeven in the first quarter, could you possibly tell us what Saybrus’ drag was for the fourth quarter?

James D. Wehr

Peter you want to share that? It's a diminishing drag as you would imagine.

Peter A. Hofmann

It’s between $2 million and $3 million.

Steven D. Schwartz – Raymond James

Between $2 million and $3 million. Okay.

James D. Wehr

Let me be clear, we as a management tram have tried to be extremely transparent. So we're not trying to be cute or hide the ball at all on these growth initiatives but they are all start ups. The nature of start ups particularly in the early phase of their growth trajectory is very hard to forecast, how rapidly they’re going to gain traction.

As these initiatives gain traction and we feel like we have more visibility around run rates, forward run rates, revenues, earnings, partners all of those things we will provide them. We're trying not to provide information one quarter that we may have to revisit and revise in a meaningful way the next quarter.

So I think, I think it's important and I am not suggesting we don't want to field questions but I just want to provide that context to everybody that’s on the call so you can appreciate what we are trying to do and why we are doing it.

Steven D. Schwartz – Raymond James

Okay. Though I appreciated and hopefully you didn’t think I was implying to something?

James D. Wehr

Believe me it's a question, we’ve got a number of questions and we have been uncharacteristically coy for this management team and I’m just trying to provide a little bit of context as to why we’re doing it.

Steven D. Schwartz – Raymond James

Okay, that's what I have. Thank you very much.

James D. Wehr

You’re welcome.

Operator

I’m showing no further questions at this time. I’ll turn the call back over to Mr. Wehr

James D. Wehr

Well, with that we appreciate everybody’s time. We know everybody is extremely busy these days and this week and this quarter. So thanks again for your time, we look forward to keeping you posted on our progress. Thank you.

Operator

This does conclude today's conference. You may disconnect at this time Thank you for your participation.

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