May 6, 2019 / 8:31 PM / 7 months ago

AIG profit beats on strong underwriting, lower costs; shares up 6 percent

(Reuters) - Insurer American International Group Inc reported first-quarter earnings that trounced Wall Street estimates on Monday, as its general insurance business posted its first underwriting profit since the financial crisis.

FILE PHOTO: People exit the AIG building in New York's financial district March 19, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

Shares of the company rose more than 6 percent after Chief Executive Officer Brian Duperreault said he expects the company to record an underwriting profit for the full year.

The general insurance unit’s underwriting income, which is the difference between premiums an insurer collects on policies and claims it pays out, was $179 million in the latest quarter, compared with an underwriting loss of $251 million a year earlier.

Adjusted income from the business rose more than two-fold to $1.27 billion.

Duperreault, who took the helm at AIG in May 2017, has been overhauling AIG’s underwriting culture, which has for years focused on chasing revenue growth without appropriately weighing risks.

The CEO and his deputies have been telling staff to be more selective about clients and wind down or revise unprofitable policies. AIG is also buying reinsurance to mitigate losses on old business.

The general insurance unit’s accident year combined ratio - which excludes changes from losses incurred in past years - was 96.1 for the quarter, compared with 99.7 a year earlier. A ratio below 100 percent means the insurer earns more in premiums than it pays out in claims.

The accident year ratio is a measurement that Duperreault has cited as the best gauge of the unit’s long-term profitability. The number excludes catastrophe claims and reserve charges.

A tight leash on costs also helped the insurer, with its expense ratio falling 230 basis points to 34.3 from the prior-year quarter.

Gross premiums written rose 11 percent to $10.2 billion in the general insurance business, helped mostly by the performance of its commercial lines insurance in North America.

AIG’s adjusted net income rose to $1.39 billion, or $1.58 per share, in the first quarter ended March 31, from $963 million, or $1.04 per share, a year earlier.

Analysts were expecting a profit of $1.06 per share, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Reporting By Aparajita Saxena in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D'Silva

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