Max Capital Group Ltd. Q2 2008 Earnings Call Transcript

Aug.25.08 | About: Max Capital (MXGL)

Max Capital Group Ltd. (MXGL) Q2 2008 Earnings Call August 5, 2008 10:00 AM ET


W. Marston Becker – Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Joseph Roberts – Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President

N. James Tees – Executive Vice President of Finance and Investments


Dan Farrell - Fox Pitt

Mark Dwelle - Ferris, Baker Watts

Rohan Pai - Banc of America Securities

Charles Hamilton - FTN Midwest


Good day, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the second quarter 2008 Max Capital Group Limited earnings conference call.

The company reminds you that forward-looking statements that may be made in this call are intended to be covered by the Safe Harbor provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995.

Forward-looking statements are not statements of historical fact, but rather reflect the company’s current expectations, estimates, and predictions about future results and events, and are subject to risks, uncertainties and assumptions including risks, uncertainties and assumptions that are enumerated in the company’s most recent Form 10-K and other documents filed with the SEC.

If one or more risks or uncertainties materialize or if the company’s underlying assumptions prove to be incorrect, actual results may vary materially from what the company projects.

The company undertakes no obligation to update publicly or revise any forward-looking statements whether as a result of new information, future events, or otherwise.

I would now like to turn the presentation over to your host for today’s conference, Mr. Marty Becker, Chairman and CEO.

W. Marston Becker

Thank you, Heather and good morning, and welcome to Max Capital’s second quarter 2008 earnings call. We are very pleased that our second quarter results reflect the continuation of Max’s very good underwriting trend. Each of our individual business segments remains on plan with their annual targets, and we were fortunate to incur no unusual loss activity.

This underwriting and operational progress was also enhanced by a very good quarter in our alternative investment portfolio despite the continuation of a very volatile investing environment.

Looking at our individual business segments our Bermuda and Dublin insurance and reinsurance businesses remain right on plan and consistent in gross written premium with the prior year.

As we said in the first quarter, we planned for these businesses to be relatively flat in 2008. The growth that we show really relates to the agricultural business we wrote in the first quarter in our reinsurance segment.

On that point, Max did file in June an 8-K that provided an overview of the agricultural business and the possible impact of the Midwest rain and floods on this year’s results.

While it was too early at that time to be more specific, since then the weather has improved markedly, and the latest projections by the USDA is for corn yields to be at 98.5% of normal, and for soybeans to be around 99% of normal.

In the hardest hit geography, Iowa, those numbers are 93% for corn and 98% for soybeans in their latest estimate. Importantly, Max does write a geographically diverse book in the crop arena.

In addition, while it is still too early to tell what the year will ultimately bring, we have prudently increased our loss picks on this line for the current year, and at the moment, we’d project a modest underwriting loss. Not a terrific result, but very manageable and significantly less than the concerns in June.

The balance of our Bermuda/Dublin portfolio is experiencing the kinds of conditions that our peers are telling you about as respect to pricing. Reinsurance pricing has remained pleasingly more disciplined than insurance pricing in both the casualty and the property line. Insurance remains quite competitive, although at this point it remains predominantly a function of price versus terms and conditions.

For some specific references, we would estimate our general liability book being down about 8% year-over-year, our property book between 10 and 15%. Thus far in the year, aviation appears to be relatively flat.

In our U.S. book Max Specialty continues to grow and we had a very good quarter. Our gross premium writings are right on plan and we continue to buy significant third-party reinsurance on this developing book of business.

The addition late in the quarter of California and Colorado expands Max Specialty’s excess surplus licenses nationwide with the exception of New Hampshire.

We also closed in June on our admitted carrier Max America, which is already a 50-state platform. The admitted licenses will be most helpful with the marine book of business within Max Specialty.

While it’s still early days, Max Specialty’s loss trends remain encouraging reflecting our disciplined strategy to selectively work our way into the market. Our underwriter reward structure here and in all our operations remains oriented to underwriting results and not premium production. We will only grow as fast as the market allows.

Our life segment recorded one new transaction in the quarter for approximately $93 million. You’ll recall the nature of this business is lumpy with the small number of sizeable transactions most commonly written in the latter months of the year.

Our target for the life business is a $150 million for the year and we’re hopeful of achieving that target.

On July 24, Max announced an agreement to purchase the Lloyd’s operations of the Imagine Group and enter the Lloyd’s market. We are quite excited about the potential for this acquisition. It provides match with our fourth key geographic platform joining Bermuda, Dublin and the U.S.

Lloyd’s is also a specialty underwriter driven market, which fits the Max portfolio and culture very well. Imagine’s Lloyd’s operation is a traditional Lloyd’s market participant with a managing agency in three active syndicates.

All three syndicates are headed by proven lead underwriters and have posted very credible results since the current management team assumed the leadership role in 2005.

This is a diversified book of business with premiums predominantly outside the U.S. and thus will complement Max’s current book. We are impressed with the talent of this group and look forward to having them joining Max. We hope to close this transaction in the late third quarter or early fourth quarter of this year.

To sum-up, it’s been both a very good quarter and an active quarter for Max in terms of strategic progress.

I’d now like to ask Joseph Roberts, Max’s CFO and Jim Tees EVP of Finance and Investments to provide greater details on our financials.

Joseph Roberts

Thanks, Marty and good morning, everyone. To reiterate Marty’s overview of results, we are pleased that our second quarter continues to reflect our very good underwriting trends. Moreover, each of our individual business segments remains on plan with their annual targets, and we incurred no unusual loss activity in the period.

Now, for some specifics: Our net operating income for the quarter ended June 30, 2008, was $76.1 million or $1.29 per diluted share, compared to $94.4 million or $1.46 per diluted share for the same period in 2007.

For the six months ended June 30, 2008, we produced net operating income of $82.4 million, or $1.39 per diluted share versus $175.5 million or $2.72 per diluted share for the same period in 2007.

Overall, premium written activity is slightly ahead of our budgeted expectation for 2008. Book pricing conditions continue to be very competitive.

The principal variance in net income for this current six months compared to the same period in 2007 with our lower-than-expected return on our alternative investments of 1.16%. This was partially offset by some reserve releases on prior year contracts, which continue to trend ahead of original reserve estimates.

Our overall net earned premiums for our more matured property and casualty insurance and reinsurance segments, were largely in line with our Q2 plan, which reflected our expectations of softening market conditions.

Our U.S. specialty segment continues to build on a strong client base. As we enter the second year of operations, already more than 50% of their budgeted premiums have been written at the halfway stage of the year.

Our life and annuity business closed a significant contract during the second quarter, which accounts for two-thirds of their estimated premium activity for the year.

Most of my comments this morning will focus on our six-month results. I’ll also highlight any pertinent second quarter items.

Turning to our individual business segments, I will begin with our property and casualty reinsurance segment.

Gross premiums written increased 27.1% for the current six months from $239.9 million in 2007 to $305 million. The increase is mainly due to our expansion into agricultural product line during the first quarter of 2008.

While this increase is offset by the slight decrease in premiums written volume to the other reinsurance lines of business, our premium activity for our reinsurance products for the six months is broadly inline with our planning expectations with agriculture, property, medical malpractice and professional liability being the largest contributors to the gross premiums written for the current six months.

Adjustments to gross premiums written on prior year contracts decreased gross premiums written by $18 million for the current six months, and they are largely due to the refinements of our original estimates as we obtain updates from our clients and monitor actual premiums received.

Reinsurance premium ceded in our property and casualty reinsurance segment increased 64.7% for the current six months from $35.2 million to $57.9 million. This increase reflected our first-time purchase of protection on our agricultural business and additional protection on our medical malpractice business, because of increased assumed premiums.

In addition, we have purchased more excessive loss protection on our aviation and property business in order to better manage our aggregates.

Net premiums earned for the six months declined 2.5% to $170 million, principally due to the additional reinsurance protection purchased. Acquisition costs were lower this period compared to 2007, principally as a result of the change in premium mix and higher costs in the second quarter of 2007, due to adjustments to sliding scale commissions.

Losses incurred for the current six months were partially offset by approximately $34.6 million of positive development on prior period reserves. This benefit contributed to a reduction of 20 percentage points to both the loss and combined ratios for the property and casualty reinsurance segment for the current six months.

However, greater than expected estimates of current year losses on our agricultural business recorded in the second quarter of the year have partially offset the benefits from positive loss development.

Absent the reserve releases on agricultural losses, our loss ratio for the period was in line with our budget and moderately higher than the same period in 2007, largely reflecting a declining pricing environments.

Turning now to our insurance segment, our gross premiums written in that segment declined 4.2% in the first six months of 2008 versus the same period in 2007. The decline was principally related to softening market rates for new and renewal business.

In addition, we declined to renew some business in the quarter where prices and conditions did not meet our underwriting criteria.

Reinsurance premium ceded decreased by 15% in the first six months of 2008 to $94.8 million compared to $111.5 million for the same period in 2007 with part of the decrease caused by reduced premiums written.

The reinsurance coverage in place in 2008 for our insurance segment remains consistent with the reinsurance program purchased in 2007, apart from minor reductions in the percentage ceded on a number of quota share facilities.

Losses incurred for the current six months were $69.8 million compared to $77.0 million for the six months last year, a decrease of 9.4%.

Losses incurred for the 2008 period benefited by approximately $1.7 million from positive development on prior-period reserves. This benefit contributed a reduction of 1.8 percentage points to both the loss and combined ratios for the property and casualty insurance segment for the six months.

Absent the reserve release, our loss ratio for six-month period was in line with our budget, and again moderately higher than the same period in 2007, largely reflecting a declining pricing environment.

Our U.S. specialty segment contributed gross premiums written of $81.3 million to our June 30, 2008 period results. The increase reflects the growth of the platform and is inline with our expectations for the period.

Gross premiums written for the corresponding period in 2007 were only $9.9 million as this segment commenced underwriting operations in the second quarter of 2007.

As we’ve said on previous calls, our strategy as we work to develop this business more fully, is to continue to purchase significant reinsurance on this segment to protect from large loss events, which results in slightly lower net premiums earned than our plan indicated.

Our loss ratio remains higher than our long-term expectations of this segment due to our conservative nature of reserving. The increased level of net premiums earned for the second quarter helped reduce the segments combined ratio.

We wrote one life and annuity reinsurance contract with gross premiums written of $92.8 million in the current second quarter compared to no life and annuity contracts written in the first half of 2007.

Excluding the premium on the contract beginning during the period, the increase in benefit expense for the current six month period versus the same period of 2007, reflects the life and annuity business written during the second half of 2007, as well as increased benefit expense related to foreign exchange movements.

In order to better manage our foreign exchange exposure, we offset the increased benefit expense of foreign exchange movements through additional investment income on the underlying assets that are retained in the same currency as the liabilities.

Cash provided by operating activities in the current six-month period, were a strong $238.5 million compared to $66.5 million for the same period of 2007, largely reflecting the additional gross premiums written in the period.

Increased operating cash flows on invested assets contributed to the 3.3% increase in net investment income earned in the six-month period. Jim Tees will provide more color on our investment returns for the period in just a moment.

The modest decrease in interest expense in 2008 is principally attributable to declining interest rates partially offset by an increase in the average outstanding debt for the period compared to the same period in 2007.

In addition, the crediting rates on funds we hold from reinsurers was lower in the first six months of 2008 than in the same period in 2007.

Total general and administrative expenses were $62.2 million for the current six months compared to $52 million for the comparable 2007 period.

The increase relates to higher incentive compensation costs, increased professional fees and increased general and administrative expenses for our U.S. based excess and surplus operation, reflecting the additional hires and growth of that business.

Let me turn to Jim now for further discussion of our balance sheet and investment.

N. James Tees

Thank you, Joe and good morning everybody. Total invested assets amounted to $5.2 billion at June 30, 2008, representing a ratio of invested assets to shareholders’ equity of a strong 3.5 to 1.

At June 30, 2008, $4.2 billion or 80% of our investable assets consisted of cash and high grade fixed maturity securities that have a weighted average credit quality rating of AA plus with more than 99% of our fixed maturities rated A or higher.

Some noteworthy comments regarding this portfolio, with respect to the sub-prime and Alt-A exposed mortgage-related securities, we had $81 million of fair value at June 30, 2008 with $73 million currently rated AAA and $8 million currently rated AA, and collectively having a weighted average life of 2.3 years.

These securities represent approximately 1.9% of our cash and fixed maturities portfolio. We continue to monitor these holdings and remain comfortable that their principal will ultimately be repaid.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been in the headline news over the past few weeks. Their debentures and mortgage in asset-backed pools comprised $775 million or 21% of our fixed income portfolio at June 30, 2008.

We remain confident about the quality of these investments, and the ultimate repayment of these obligations, and believe that the United States government will support these entities if it were to become necessary.

Net investment income was $43 million for the quarter ended June 30, 2008 versus $46 million for the same period in 2007, a decrease of 7% principally due to lower yields.

Our high-quality fixed maturities portfolio was not immune to widening credit spreads and produced a negative return of 91 basis points for the three months ended June 30, 2008. This performance was more than offset by the strong performance in our alternative investment portfolio.

Alternative investments were $1 billion or 20% of our invested assets. The alternative portfolio returned 3.34% during the quarter ended June 30, 2008, resulting in a year-to-date return of 1.16%.

The company’s alternative investment portfolio for both periods compares favorably to the returns of 1.81% and negative 2.54% respectively over the same period for the HFRI Fund of Funds Index, which we believe is the most comparable benchmark for this asset class.

The comparables against our 2007 actual returns are and will be tough to beat, as our 2007 alternative investment returns were strong and significantly exceeded our return assumption for planning purposes.

Last year, our alternative investments returned 5.84% in the second quarter and 10.86% in the six-month period. This difference in return accounts for the decrease in net gains on alternative investments this year versus last year.

Looking at a longer, and we believe more appropriate, timeframe over the past 60 months, our alternative investment portfolio has produced an 8.62 compound annual return.

Our fund of hedge funds-only performance during the same 60 month period produced a 9.30 compound annual return and compares favorably to the HFRI Fund of Funds Index, which has produced a compound annual return of 7.65% over the same period.

By way of update, we continue to have a few underlying funds in alternative investment portfolio that trade subprime securities, both long and short positions. The overall portfolio remains in a net short position with respect to these securities at June 30, 2008.

As for July performance, reports from our underlying funds are just beginning to be received. Early indications suggest alternative investment performance for July will be negative. This is not surprising given the volatility in all trading markets during the month.

Turning to reserves, our property and casualty loss reserves were $2.5 billion at June 30, 2008, up $200 million from $2.3 billion at December 31, 2007, with approximately 75% of these reserves being IBNR reserves.

On life and annuity benefit reserves were over $1.3 billion at June 30, 2008, and increased approximately $100 million since December 31, principally as a result of the $93 million pension annuity transaction written in the quarter ended June 30, 2008.

Our balance sheet remains in excellent shape, and we believe that our capital position is strong. Shareholders’ equity at June 30, 2008, was $1.5 billion or $25.65 per fully diluted share versus $1.6 billion or $25.59 per fully diluted share at December 31, 2007.

The increase in book value has been restrained year-to-date, with our net income being principally offset by an increase in net unrealized losses from our investment portfolio.

As for capital management, we continued to repurchase our shares during the second quarter 2008, repurchasing 408,000 shares outstanding.

Year-to-date through June 30, 2008, we have repurchased approximately 3.8 million shares outstanding, or 6.5% of shares outstanding as of the beginning of the year. Today, we have $76 million of repurchase authorization from our board.

While we believe that share repurchases are an attractive use of our excess capital, especially at our current trading levels, we’ve been prudent in our repurchases over the last few months and will continue to be so in the next few months until the end of the hurricane season.

Finally, we have declared a dividend of $0.09 per share which is payable on September 2, 2008 to shareholders of record as of August 19, 2008.

I will now turn the call back to Marty for his closing comments.

W. Marston Becker

Thank you very much, Jim. I think you can see that Max had a very good quarter in the face of some pretty challenging investment markets, as well as what has been and continues to be a challenging underwriting market.

We were able to post very good numbers for the quarter, but also importantly advance our strategic position for long-term growth. We think this will continue to build the value for Max and our shareholders.

What we’d now like to do, Heather, is open up the call for questions.

Question-and-Answer Session


Your first question is from the line of Charles Hamilton - FTN Midwest.

Charles Hamilton - FTN Midwest

Hi, good morning, everyone and congratulations on a great quarter.

W. Marston Becker

Thanks, Chuck.

Charles Hamilton - FTN Midwest

Two questions this morning. Can you give us a little bit more color on the extent of the crop losses in the quarter; I know that you’d said you had moderately increased your loss pick in the quarter. But, given the pre-announcement I think we were all expecting a bit higher losses than what actually materialized.

W. Marston Becker

We took our loss pickup over a 100 combined ratio. We feel like that’s a pretty good resting point for the moment with what’s going on out there and leaves room for it to come down if things continue to improve, or go up modestly if things don’t.

Joseph Roberts

I also think, Chuck, it’s worth remembering, when we put that we release out, I think we were comparing it to 93 year with an ‘as if.’ I think positions have changed somewhat, and we’ve continued to monitor the situation and booked accordingly.

Charles Hamilton - FTN Midwest

Okay. And your earned premium in the quarter on the crop book was about what?

Joseph Roberts

Were $85 million or so in written...

W. Marston Becker

25% of that.

Joseph Roberts

Approximately 25%, so that’s on a gross basis, and we do have received; probably around $18 to $20 million.

Charles Hamilton - FTN Midwest

Second one, I think, Marty it’s maybe for you, as that I know that you’ve given us guidance previously, I wonder if you could give us a new view of your guidance for the remainder of the year.

W. Marston Becker

We’ve had the standing policy that we give guidance in February and we really don’t update it. I would say that the underwriting guidance we gave continues to hold quite well at this point in the year.

The real variable is what do you think the investment markets are going to do both in terms of alternatives and frankly at this point fixed income, because yields are coming down.

Charles Hamilton - FTN Midwest

Okay. Thank you.


Your next question comes from line of Rohan Pai - Banc of America Securities.

Rohan Pai - Banc of America Securities

Good morning. The first question had to do with your segment results; your medical malpractice grew considerably this quarter; your marine, energy declined. If you can just give us some color on both those lines, what are the trends you’re seeing; where is this new business coming from? And in marine energy, did the market conditions deteriorate quite a bit?

Joseph Roberts

I think Rohan, we’ve just had some wins and some losses. In the first quarter we had some opportunity to bind up some additional med-mal business, which we did and bought some additional reinsurance protection on that.

We are continuing to have some losses and declines, and then we’re also seeing some different opportunities. I wouldn’t read too much into some small variances from quarter-to-quarter; the numbers are relatively small, it is easy to have movement from quarter-to-quarter.

Rohan Pai - Banc of America Securities

Okay, good. Thank you. The second question I had was on reserve releases, could you give us some detail on which lines of business it’s related to?

Joseph Roberts

We typically don’t provide that on a quarter-by-quarter basis; we will typically do it at the end of the year. It’s unlikely we’ll change that philosophy at this stage.

Rohan Pai - Banc of America Securities

Okay. And the final question would be on professional lines. If you can give us a sense of the loss trends in that business; are you seeing anything different?

N. James Tees

We’re not writing in more the headline classes of late. We write very little financial institution business, we write very little D&O business. Our loss trends have been normalized loss trends for the non-popular exposed areas of that marketplace.

Rohan Pai - Banc of America Securities

Okay. So no changes really?

N. James Tees

Not in what we write; nothing material.

Rohan Pai - Banc of America Securities

All right. Thank you.


Your next question is from the line of Mark Dwelle - Ferris, Baker Watts.

Mark Dwelle - Ferris, Baker Watts

Good morning gentlemen, nice quarter. A couple of questions. First, with the new Max admitted business in the U.S. did it actually produce any premiums in the quarter, or you just got the doors open?

W. Marston Becker

We really only closed the transaction, I believe it was June 2. We still have to do admitted filings for that company for the lines that we want to write in it, which mainly will be marine lines.

So you won’t see much premium written in that business this year in that admitted statutory company. What we did do the first part of the year was we contracted for a fronting relationship with State National for those cases where the marine team needed admitted papers.

They are writing some admitted business where needed, already through that fronting relationship, and we’ll just be transforming that business and future business that they write over to our own admitted carrier, as the filings get approved.

Mark Dwelle - Ferris, Baker Watts

It’ll probably be late this year or early next year before that’s really truly a big net and gross contributor?

W. Marston Becker

That is correct, although, I would say that the business that we would plan to write; we’re going to write because we’ve got the non-admitted licenses and we’ve got the admitted presence through State National, it’s just if you were to look at our statutory returns, you’re not going to see any meaningful volume through the Max America statutory return until 2009.

Mark Dwelle - Ferris, Baker Watts

Okay. Second question relates to the alternative portfolio. Did you add any funds to that or was the increase in that simply just related to the appreciation in the underlying balances?

W. Marston Becker

We added no new dollars to the alternative portfolio. Likewise, we did not take out any dollars from the alternative portfolio in the quarter. So, it’s purely just the mark-to-market.

Mark Dwelle - Ferris, Baker Watts

Okay. And then with respect to the overall yield, and I appreciate that the market’s evolving fairly rapidly here. The yield on the fixed income portfolio declined pretty substantially.

Would you contemplate doing anything like extending your duration or maybe decreasing the cash mix or something like that to try to compensate or are you comfortable to just leave the mix as it is and just take the lower yield?

W. Marston Becker

I think our longer-term view on rates is that increasing your duration right now is probably not the wisest thing to do. We would expect at some point in the future for rates to head back the other way.

We did, around year-end and in the first quarter, modestly reduced the duration on a portion of our long end of that portfolio. You do see some of that through the numbers, but by and large, our duration is roughly four years and that’s about where we will keep it.

Joseph Roberts

I think as well, Mark, we have always tried to match our duration to our liabilities and unless our liability portfolio is changing significantly, we wouldn’t expect our duration portfolio to be changing significantly.

W. Marston Becker


Mark Dwelle - Ferris, Baker Watts

Okay, that’s all my questions. Thank you.


Your next question is from the line of Dan Farrell - Fox Pitt.

Dan Farrell - Fox Pitt

Good morning. I just have a follow-up question on the crop business. You said you booked your combined I think in that over 100% now in the quarter. What was the dollar impact from that versus what your previous assumptions were?

Joseph Roberts

It is approximately $6 million.

Dan Farrell - Fox Pitt

Okay. And you also said the weather has gotten much better. Do you think that provision could prove to be conservative as we go forward through the year?

N. James Tees

I think, it’s really too early to say that Dan and one thing about now being here in the farming business, the weather is good now, but what about an early frost? Nobody really knows.

Dan Farrell - Fox Pitt

Good point, okay. And again on the reserves, the release in the quarter. I know you said you don’t comment by line, but could you give some general commentary in terms of reserve releases, are they coming more from casualty, property lines?

Can you make some general commentary on that? Then could you also just say where IBNR was as a percentage of total reserves at the end of the quarter?

Joseph Roberts

Dan, I can tell you that the reserve releases across a multitude of lines, property and casualty, probably somewhat evenly split with some of the casualty on more of our earlier year contracts and with property on more of our recent contracts.

W. Marston Becker

The second part of the question is how much IBNR we have at the end of period. We were not taking reserve releases out of IBNR. IBNR remains at very conservative levels.

N. James Tees

As I’ve indicated, that 75% of our PNC reserves are IBNR.

Dan Farrell - Fox Pitt

Great. Thank you.


As there are no further questions in queue at this time. I’d like to turn the call back over to management for closing remarks.

W. Marston Becker

Thank you, Heather. Again we appreciate everybody taking the time to listen in on the call. It was very good quarter. If any of you have any follow-up, individual questions, please call and we’ll get back to you right away. We look forward to seeing you in our travels in the future. Take care.


Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your participation in today’s conference. This concludes the presentation. You may now disconnect. Have a great day.

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