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Noah Fields - Head of IR

Chris O’Kane - CEO

Richard Houghton - CFO


Alain Karaoglan - Banc of America Securities

Vinay Misquith - Credit Suisse

Jay Yang - Perry Capital

Aspen Insurance Holdings Ltd (AHL) Q3 2007 Earnings Call November 2, 2007 8:30 AM ET


My name is Michelle and I will be your conference Operator today. At this time, I would like to welcome everyone to the Aspen Insurance Holdings Third Quarter 2007 Earnings Conference Call. All lines have been placed on-mute to prevent any background noise. After the speakers' remarks, there will be a question-and-answer period. (Operator Instructions)

Thank you. It is now my pleasure to turn the floor to your host, Mr. Noah Fields. Sir, you may begin your conference.

Noah Fields

Thank you and good morning. The presenters on this morning's call are Chris O’Kane, Chief Executive Officer of Aspen Insurance Holdings; and Richard Houghton, Chief Financial Officer of Aspen Insurance Holdings. Before we get underway, I'd like to make the following remarks. Yesterday afternoon, we issued our press release announcing Aspen's financial results for the quarter ended September 30th, 2007. This press release, as well as corresponding supplementary financial information, can be found on our website at

I would also like to draw your attention to the fact that we have posted a short slide presentation on our website to accompany this call. This presentation contains, and Aspen may make from time to time, written or oral forward-looking statements within the meaning under and pursuant to the Safe Harbor provisions of U.S. Federal Securities laws. All forward-looking statements will have a number of assumptions concerning future events that are subject to a number of uncertainties and other factors.

For more detailed descriptions of these uncertainties and other factors, please see the Risk Factors section in Aspen's annual report on Form 10-K filed with the SEC and on our website. Finally, this presentation will contain non-GAAP financial measures, which we believe are meaningful in evaluating the company's performance. For a detailed disclosure on non-GAAP financials, please refer to the supplementary financial data and our earnings slide presentation posted on the Aspen website. Now, I'll turn the call over to Chris O’Kane.

Chris O’Kane

Thanks, Noah. Good morning, and thank you for joining us. I'm pleased to report another strong quarter of earnings result. For the quarter, we reported net income of $117 million, an increase of 23.4% versus the same period last year. This equates to an annualized return on average equity for the quarter of 20.2%. The combined ratio for the quarter was 88.5%. For the nine months of 2007, net income was $354 million and the annualized return on average equity was 21.2% with a combined ratio of 84.1%. Further detail on the results is setout in slides 3 and 4.

These results, we achieved against backdrop with declining market and I am particularly pleased with these returns, as they reflect the changes we made to our business in 2005 to reduce the onsite risks, I will come back to this later on the call. This quarter, we also realigned our operating segments to reflect the current organizational and reporting structure of our business. These changes are reflected in slide 5.

Our four new segments were Property Reinsurance, Casualty Reinsurance, International Insurance, which comprises all of our non US based insurance operations, and US Insurance, which includes our Excess & Surplus Lines business. I will not comment on market conditions. Overall rates are continuing to trend downwards, but there is significant variation by line of business rating pressure in some of the lines, we write such as U.K. Commercial Property and U.K. Employers’ and Public Liability is particularly acute.

Therefore, we wrote less new business. We accept a reduced retention rates on renewals in order to preserve the underwriting margins and return on capital. One consequence of this is reducing top line, which is reflected in growth written premium for the third quarter of 18% less than the same period last year.

Turning now to each of our business segments, as shown in slide 6 and 7, we measure rate relativities on a premium weighted basis average. I’m sorry, read that again. We measure relativities on the premium weighted average basis on business, we renew.

Starting with our Property Reinsurance lines overall rates remained flat on business we renewed this year. Although rates, have trended down from the record highs achieved in July 2006. And our Catastrophe Treaty book rates are actually up 3% on average in 2007 renewal business.

Further, the comparison between 2006 and 2007 is somewhat assorted, because in January 2007, we saw US prices they were up over 30% year-on-year and we increased our book in anticipation of rates softening later, which is exactly what happened. April renewal rates were flat. We are sensing average price declines of 15% on renewals. The trend, however in property cat pricing is clearly downwards.

Our Pro Rata Treaty business has seen average rate declines of 1% in 2007. And our Risk Excess Treaty business renewal rates were down approximately 4% with some pressure on terms and conditions. Within Property Reinsurance as a whole, terms and conditions have remained stable. But we will continue to pay close attention to contract wordings particularly as the markets softens. However, in the underlying primary policies, we project there has been some erosion in terms and conditions.

In Casualty Reinsurance, we have seen prices come down although slightly less than our expectations. Our International Causality Reinsurance account rates have declined by approximately 5% reflecting lower pricing in the insurance markets and we anticipate further rating pressure in 2008.

In US Casualty Reinsurance, we recorded reduction also of approximately 5% on a book. Overall the downward pressure rate is increasing with finance referencing, recent profitability and ongoing total bond plus rate reductions.

In the international insurance segment, we have seen rates come off approximately 2% on average on renewal business, although it varies widely by line. In our energy physical damage account average renewal pricing declined 8% year-to-date reflecting minimal loss activity.

Marine liability insurance experienced 10% in increase average rates due to combination of market practice and tax loss activity in some contracts although we do anticipate some reductions in the coming months.

We recorded 6% increase in our marine hull account as the consequence of the increased frequency of losses in this line of business. Rates for aviation insurance are down 7%. However, the some encouraging signs in the aviation market, a some business, which we have rejected is being under priced is come back to a certain improved terms when the market had been unwilling to complete placement the previous firm order.

UK employees and public liability have seen the largest fall off in rates down 12% due to increased competition and we have written 25% less premium in these lines as a result. We also seen average rate of clients of 4% this year on our UK commercial property account. And our specialty reinsurance account, which we reported within the international insurance segment rates have declined by on average of 5%.

Finally, moving to launch the market is seeing reduction typically in the range of 10% to 20% on E&S Property and 12.5% to 15% in the E&S Casualty. Our renewal business are very much better. Leveraging opportunities in client connections and by careful risk selection, we have [landed] the weight reductions and our property accounts 2%, casualty to 5%. Our new property underwriting team has been in board for just over six months. They were making progress and working with wholesale brokers, so they understand the business we want.

We changed our approach to produce the management and we have been corrective in terms of originating business. The betterments of this will be reflected in our reported performance, as we go through to 2008. As you have heard from me today and others, this earning season, our industry is in the middle of a softening rate environment and I believe that it is worthwhile spending a few moments on our business model and while, we are well positioned in this market.

Over the years, we have mentioned diversified setout on slide 8 and 9. In fact, we have been pursuing our multiplatform, multi-class approach since Aspen’s creation over five years ago. We added approximately $1.1 billion in new lines since 2004 with the particular focus in building out reinsurance operations and non co-relating lines.

Our portfolio split is approximately 35/66 percent insurance, reinsurance and 60/40%, public casualty. We have made some very deliberate changes to our business model in 2005 including a reduction in our risks tolerance to 70.5% of third shareholders equity for 1,100 year event and 25% or 1,250 year event, which reduced catastrophe exposures right through the loss distribution curve.

As a result, we purchased significantly less reinsurance and retrocession cover, which has the direct impact on our bottom line. So, for the record, our reinsurance charge for the nine months this year was $119.3 million down from $254.4 million for the same period in 2006.

In other words, we are very comfortable with the well priced and diversified cat exposures we hold, and we believe that it make sense to keep these in our balance sheet. This is advantageous both from a risk management and return on capital perspective.

This quarter we continue to diversify selectively and broaden our portfolio with addition of two new lines. We began underwriting mainly international focused professional liability insurance account in UK and outside in to excess Casualty Insurance with establishment of dedicated underwriting units in Dublin.

We expect to commence underwriting in excess casualty at the end of November this year. Gross written premium from these lines should contribute around $150 million in 2009. Selective diversification through the addition of new underwriting teams is a core component of our long-term growth strategy. Well I could hire of the teams in 2008.

It’s our belief that good underwriters can source profitable business in all phases of market cycle. For the amount of such business will be limited when rates are low, but this approach will leave as extremely well placed to expand rapidly, when conditions are right.

We continue to enhance our risk management framework, which has been awarded a strong rating by Standard & Poor's the second highest rating. Only 3 out of 29 global reinsurance companies rated by S&P on this basis of higher rating allowance, which we think it is a significant achievement.

Our tax rate has fallen from 20% in 2006 to 15% reflecting a number steps taken to improve our overall financial efficiency. Returns have been enhanced further by corrective balance sheet management through our authorized $300 million share repurchase program. And we expect to complete the remaining $50 million by year end.

This scrutiny apply to our underwriting is also reflected and how we approach our investment portfolio. We continue to pickup yield without reducing credit quality by careful selection and managing the yield curve. This is resulted increasingly larger contribution from investments of overall results.

I am extremely pleased in this connection to announce Liaquat Ahamed joined our Board earlier this week. Liaquat was Head of the World Bank's Investment Department and the CEO of Fischer Francis Trees & Watts. And I am looking forward to working with him.

With that, I’d like to turn the call over to Richard Haughton.

Richard Haughton

Thank you, Chris. Good morning. I’m delighted to report on excellent third quarter earnings for Aspen with net income of $170 million or 23% on the same quarter last year and year-to-date, net income up 37% or $354 million. Book value per ordinary share for the nine months ended September was up by [1%] on last year and both our third quarter annualized return on equity of 20.2% and 21.2% for the nine months ended 30th of September show the quality and consistent of our performance.

In environment, where many of our product lines are suffering softening pricing, as Chris just described our third quarter and 2007 performance to-date of the products have disciplined underwriting, prudent reserving, most pleasingly in the lights of uncertain financial markets, strong investment performance. We have also of course benefited from a benign third quarter cat season.

Our combined ratio for the quarter of 84.5% compares with 81% last year, which have no reported cat losses. Our year-to-date, combined ratio is virtually unchanged at 84.1% despite pressure on margins, and our loss ratio for the same period is also virtually flat at 54.8%. Our combined ratio excluding cat losses year-to-date was 79.3% compared with 84.3%.

I’ll now take you though some of the highlights of our financial performance and provide an update on both the yearend guidance and capital management activities. Starting first with our third quarter claims performance, I’m happy to report that the only significant weather related event was the July floods in the UK for which we have set aside reserves of $7 million substantially less than the June flood reserve. We have also reduced marginally our June UK flood reserves to $22.5 million.

Our total cat losses year-to-date are $64 million compared with none last year. The ninth third quarter experience balancing heavier than expected losses in the first half through Windstorm Kyrill and the June UK floods.

We release $29 million prior reserves in the third quarter compared with 12 million in 2006. Bringing our year-to-date releases to $73 million slightly up on $58 million at this point last year was still representing only 3% of net reserves with the start of the year.

This quarter reserve releases came predominately from our international insurance book a most specifically from both our UK liability book and aviation account those claims have settled favorably. Our expense ratio is 32.1% for the quarter compared to 27% in the corresponding quarter in 2006.

The operating and administrative expense element of this is 14% in the quarter up from 8.6% in 2006. The key factors driving this increase, where the cause of hiring new teams, restructuring our US insurance operations, a higher charge of performance related remuneration and high cost in dollar terms reduce the strengthening of Sterling, where over 50% of our cost were incurred compared with dollar.

As Chris has already noted, we have slightly amended our segmentation for reporting purposes and the details are setout in page 5 of the slides. We presented our results on both old and new basis in the financial supplement.

Gross written premiums were down 18% in the third quarter to $374 million, a reduction of $84 million on last year, which are declining Property Reinsurance, contributed $62 million. This reduction is due to softening market conditions, [normal year rejection] of business, which does not meet our required rate of return and the change in the seasonality of our Property Reinsurance business.

In 2007, we were proportionally more business earlier in the year than 2006, making third quarter comparative premium appear low. The timing of our writing in 2006 was delayed, as we anticipated correctly the rates would improve shifting premium to latterly in the year than for this year. This year-on-year reduction should be seen in the context of a year-to-date reduction of $43 million or 8%.

Property Reinsurance driven by disciplined underwriting and a benign loss experienced in the third quarter made an underwriting profit of $39 million compared with $29 million last year and excellent combined ratio is 69.1% better the solid 2006 performance of 77.8%.

The performance of our Casualty Reinsurance segment this quarter was affected by a number of one-off considerations and we report an underwriting loss of $2 million compared with the 2006 profit of $19 million. The letter including reserve release of $7 million.

Our year-to-date combined ratio is 94% versus 82.6% last year, while the combined ratio for the quarter was 101.7% versus 85.4% last year. We expect that the year-to-date combined ratio is more indicative of the future performance of the book in the medium term.

Our International Insurance segment enjoyed a steady quarter with underwriting profit of $28 million and a combined ratio of 80.9% versus $45 million and a combined ratio of 68.7% last year. Strong positive prior year development from both the UK Liability and Aviation Accounts was offset by a single aviation loss in Brazil of $10 million and July fed losses of $4 million.

I’m pleased to report our US Insurance operation made an underwriting profit of $1 million in the quarter compared with the loss of an $11 million last year, as we continue to restructure the property account in particular.

Our investment activities have again produced an excellent performance in the third quarter generating $72 million of investment income up by 53.1% on 2006 details of our portfolio given on slide 10 and 11. Our performance is driven by increasing book yields in our fixed income portfolio, strong operating cash flow, which has increased our portfolio to $5.8 billion up by 20% from this time last year.

Our investment portfolio remains dominated by high quality liquid fixed income investments representing over 91% of our portfolio. The book yield on the fixed income element of our portfolio increased to 5.08% at the end of the quarter up from 4.94% as of June 30, 2007 and compared with 4.44% up same point last year.

We have an average portfolio rating of AA plus with 89% of our portfolio rated ‘A’ better. Only 1.7% of our book is rated BBB and we have no high yield securities. There is being much interest in the performance by investment in funds of hedged funds over the quarter given the turmoil in the financial markets.

And I’m pleased to report that our multi-manger, multi-strategy diversified selection criteria protected us from extreme volatility. And this portion of our portfolio produced an annualized 6.5% return in the third quarter contributing $8 million to the quarter's investment income and an annualized return of 13% at the end of the third quarter. Funds of hedged funds currently represents, approximately 9% of our total portfolio.

Turning to capital management, we undertook a further stock buyback of $50 million at the end of the quarter through an accelerated stock repurchase needing a further $60 million buyback to complete the $300 million authorized buyback authorized by our board in 2006. We will seek to complete this remaining portion by the year end subject to market conditions.

I expect to provide a further update on capital management on our next earnings call following the year end results.

Lastly, I would like to update on guidance for 2007, based on our experience year-to-date. You will see an updated set of metrics on page 12 of the slide presentation. In brief, we have narrowed our combined operating ratio guidance to 83% to 86%. Investment income has been increased to a range of $280 million to $300 million and betting improving book yields further in to our expectations.

We have reduced the tax rate range the 14% to 16% driven by the strong performance by our Bermuda domiciled book. Lastly, we have reduced our assumed Cat-Load for the full year to $90 million to reflect year-to-date experience.

To conclude this is the seventh quarter in a row that we have increased book value per share and our return on equity above the quarter and year-to-date are we believe testament to our disciplined underwriting diversified book and considered approached to our investment portfolio. Our future capital plans will continue to align our balance sheet to the opportunities currently available in the market.

And on that note, I would like to return the call back to Chris O’Kane.

Chris O’Kane

Thanks, Richard. Well, in Aspen, we have a season (inaudible) with many years of experience navigating through soft markets. Our approach is predicated and targeted management of the underlying drivers of ROE.

Underwriting discipline and risk selection coupled with prudent capital and balance sheet management to strong best returns a key to performing well in the softening market. As I have outlined above we have taken a number of steps to build in our strong underwriting results and position Aspen to continue generating attractive returns and book value growth.

With that, I will turn the call over to questions.

Question-and-Answer session


(Operator Instructions) Your first question is coming from Alain Karaoglan of Banc of America Securities.

Alain Karaoglan - Banc of America Securities

Good morning. I’ve a couple of questions. Could you comment a little bit on the Casualty Reinsurance results that had a combined ratio of above 100? And also the expense ratio ticking up, you mentioned a few reason hiring new people is that going to force them to write more business in an environment than softening. And Chris, how do you make sure that your new team do not do that and still write the business that you want them to write in spite of being just hired?

Chris O’Kane

Okay. Well, let me take the beginning of that call, and I’ll then hand over to Richard to give you more about the hired data. Our view is that high quality underwriters particularly kind of teams, we like to have them following in terms of the brokers producers and in terms of plans that they like to do business with. They tend to be loyal to them in hard markets and soft markets.

And the best quality of business makes some money in the soft market. It makes more than the hard market obviously. So, our view is to bring teams on board now even in the softening market will actually yield us some small amount of profit. But it also shows the seed for very rapid expansion, when the market turns. I think, we can maybe leverage that distribution capability we have, when the rates are better and that’s what we’re doing. And I guess, I’ve done it for my underwriting career and I know it can work.

How do we know that they are not going to write bad business just because that’s what I just want to do? We don’t give them very demanding premium targets. We look at it very carefully. We look at what’s available. We look at our own track records. We essentially say success is in your underwriting margin, the profit margin not in your top line. Right, that’s true for the new teams and it’s true for the existing teams, no one when asked and they told the top line is an important thing to look.

So, underwriting margin than I guess there is a controlled Operators through the company, which will underwriting audits, internal audits, line management into use. It looks a bit strange are also part of the Operators control. But to be honest, I think, our guys right across the company no words wanted off them and it’s extremely rare, we have a conversation to do with you are writing more business than you will be.

So, I guess the point here is there is an expense ratio up tick as a result in the short-term. The expenses come first, the revenues come later. We look at it, if you like on a net present value basis and over three years every team we have appears to make a lot of sense. I think, you also asked about the Casualty Reinsurance in detail and the expense ratio. I’m going to ask Richard to help on that.

Richard Houghton

Thanks, Chris. Just to tied you up on the expense ratio, first. Firs of all if I could allow, I think, Chris has outlined most of the issues here. But there was some really good new stories for me in the expense number even though it’s moved adverse. I’ll see as investments spend in new teams and as Chris said that comes before the income starts to flow.

But we’ve done some very exiting things this quarter and it cost us some money and we look forward to enjoying the benefits of that in 2008 and going forward. The other sizeable element in the expense ratio is our bonus profits growth that’s driven by a very strong performance in our year-to-date position.

So, again I think that’s good news hopefully for our shareholders and our employees. There is also a small Forex element because we do hold a portion of our cost base in Sterling and that just our policies way the currency has moved in the quarter.

But nothing to me anyway particularly concerning in the Q3 expense ratio in fact there is quite a few positives in that. But you clearly you have to continue to explain the increases in terms of investment of what positive and if there are any negatives I will of course tell you. But that’s not the story for this quarter in my view.

Turning to the Casualty Reinsurance book, as usual you got to getaway from the noise to trying work already underlying performance of the book this year, because we have some reserve release movement both in the last year and this year. So, the release was salient ratio that allows you to consider is our year-to-date combined operating ratio for the accident year is 99% versus 97% last year.

And Chris referred to the tough market conditions in this particular section of our book, but if you strip out some of the one offs that we had in the quarter that relate to reserve releases etcetera, then our underlying performance is we believe satisfactory.

Alain Karaoglan - Banc of America Securities

Two questions, just two follow-ups one on the expense ratio. Could you quantify the performance part of the expense ratio? And second, but is it 99% or 97% casualty combined ratio at this stage of the cycle acceptable or you are saying reserves are conservative. Could you comment on that?

Richard Houghton

Yeah. Sure, okay. On the expense side, my variance year-on-year would up about $6 million for the quarter and not reflect all sort of year-to-date performance. So, that rate the number in that. In terms of the long-term performance is 99% adequate, you do have to remember what sort of investment performance we can drive from the casualty reinsurance book. So that is still a more and eloquent combined operating ratio for us to work on.

Alain Karaoglan - Banc of America Securities

Okay. And the last question has to do on the guidance. The implied ROE of 16%, I mean to reach the bottom end of that return on equity it’s suggest a pretty bad return on equity in the fourth quarter. I guess, the question that I’ve and the reason why you didn’t tighten up that range, as well the way you did with the combined ratio and with the cat losses by moving the bottom part of it up?

Chris O’Kane

I’ll confess to my usual accounts and it’s prudent. I think Alain the wind is blowing a little bit in Bermuda, as we sit here today, we still don’t know what’s going to happen in Q3 otherwise you can see from all the metrics they are virtually all going the right way. So, I’d be very, very hopeful that we will be moving towards the top end of the ROE gotten.

Alain Karaoglan - Banc of America Securities

Great, thank you very much.

Chris O’Kane

Thank you.

Richard Houghton

Thanks, Alain.


Thank you. (Operators Instructions) Your next question is coming from Vinay Misquith of Credit Suisse.

Vinay Misquith - Credit Suisse

Hi, good morning. Started with [data harsh] but just wondering with your expense ratio, with the operating expense. I wanted to know, whether this was really be the run rate for the next few quarters or would you be spending a little bit more money on your new teams and offset by some reduction maybe in the next two quarters from the bonus accrual. So, I just want to get a sense for whether your run rate of about $59 million this quarter would be the run rate going forward for the next few quarters?

Chris O’Kane

This quarter feels slightly on the heavy side, Vinay is what I’d say. But you kind of remember how the ratio is prepared it’s driven half the premium. So, our focus is on the bottom line underwriting discipline. So, I don’t want get too hang-up on the expense ratio, but I would say it is slightly heavier than our anticipation, because the take one of the new teams that we’ve had, on the way we’ve accounted for bonus in Q3.

Vinay Misquith - Credit Suisse

Okay. That’s fair enough. And I don’t know whether you have, but if you can just provide us with a breakdown of historical performance of the new segments that would be helpful? And on the Property Reinsurance, looking at the consolidated reinsurance that you purchased it was roughly about 11% of gross premiums this year. Do you anticipate buying a similar amount next year?

Chris O'Kane

Okay. In terms of the historical of the new segments I believe we have disclosed that and we will continue to do that for the immediate future. So that, it would assists in your making comparisons. I’m sorry. Could you repeat the other part of your question?

Vinay Misquith - Credit Suisse

Sure. The reinsurance, right.

Chris O’Kane

Yeah. We’re looking that at the moment. The reason where the assumption is it we would spend approximately the same next year as we did this year, very approximately. It depends a little bit on how prices in that market move and we don’t yet know. How they’re going to move.

Vinay Misquith - Credit Suisse

Okay, fair enough. And in terms of the top line, just wondering you have three new segments or sort of new set of teams Nathan Warde also came on Board in the US. I’m just curious what you’re looking at next year would we still see down premiums because maybe pulling back some more on the causality reinsurance side and maybe on the Property Reinsurance, but your three new insurance teams. What start to kick in some premiums next year, I’m just wondering what you can give us?

Chris O’Kane

I can’t give you very much this morning. Next call we'll talk about 2008 guidance. All I’d say is I’m speaking about the new teams replacing loss revenue in difficult markets [cyclicality] elsewhere as supposed to necessarily making perhaps good growth. I think the line of thinking that you are on is probably about correct.

Vinay Misquith - Credit Suisse

Okay, fair enough. And one last numbers question maybe for Richard. The $10 million in cat losses, which lines that flow through exactly?

Richard Houghton

That would have gone through the International Insurance line. That’s was in relation to the U.K. floods.

Vinay Misquith - Credit Suisse

Okay. Also the entire $10 million would have been in that line, okay?

Richard Houghton

So, there is about $7.5 amount million in relations to the U.K. floods of which $4 million was in the International Insurance line.

Vinay Misquith - Credit Suisse

Fair enough. All right. Thank you.

Richard Houghton


Chris O’Kane

Thanks, Vinay.


Thank you. (Operator Instructions). There appear to be no more questions at this time. I will turn the floor over back to your host Mr. Chris O’Kane for any closing remarks.

Chris O’Kane

Actually, we may have one more question. Let me just check.


Yes sir. We have Jay Yang of Perry Capital.

Jay Yang - Perry Capital

Good morning. Could you just put the assumed average cat load in perspective? Do you have any year-to-date number for cats that you have reported?

Richard Houghton

Yeah, sure it’s around about $64 million year-to-date.

Jay Yang - Perry Capital

64 million okay. Great. Thank you.


Thank you. There are no more questions at this time, sir.

Chris O’Kane

Okay. Well, that really is the end. And so, thank you very much for your attention this morning. Have a good day. Good luck.


Thank you. This concludes today's Aspen Insurance Holdings third quarter 2007 earnings conference call. You may now disconnect.

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