Tag Archives: Lancashire specialty insurer

Mega-Tsunami Fright Scenario

There was a nice piece on the online FT on the forces impacting the reinsurance sector last night. Lancashire, which is behaving oddly these days, was one of the firms mentioned. Lancashire looks like its set to drop by approximately 12% (the amount of the special dividend) when it goes ex-dividend after today the 28th (although yahoo has been shown it dropping by 10%-12% at the end of trading for several days now, including yesterday). If it does drop to a £5.50 level, that’s approximately a 123% price to diluted tangible book value. Quite a come down from the loftier valuations of 150%-170% under previous CEO Richard Brindle!

Anyway, this post is not about that. A major part of modern risk management in the insurance sector today is applying real life scenarios to risk portfolios to assess their impact. Lloyds’ has being doing it for years with their realistic disaster scenarios (RDS). Insurers are adept at using scenarios generating by professional catastrophic models from firms like RMS and AIR on so-called peak zones like US hurricanes or Japan earthquake. Many non-peak scenarios are not explicitly modelled by such firms.

The horrors of the tsunamis from the 2011 Tōhoku and the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquakes have been brought home vividly in this multi-media age. The damage in human terms from the receding waters full of debris makes the realities of such events all too real.  Approximately 80% of tsunamis come from earthquakes and history is littered with examples of large destructive tsunami resulting from earthquakes – the 1755 Great Lisbon earthquake in Portugal, the 1783 Calabrian and the 1908 Messina earthquakes in Italy, the 1896 Sanriku earthquake in Japan, the recently discovered 365 AD Mediterranean quake, the 1700 Cascadia Megathrust earthquake in the west coast of the US, and the 1958 Lituya Bay quake in Alaska are but a few examples.

Volcanoes are another potential cause of mega tsunamis as many volcanoes are found next to the sea, notably in countries bordering the Pacific Ocean, the northern Mediterranean and the Caribbean Sea.  One scenario put forward by a paper from Steven Ward and Simon Day in 2001 is the possibility of a mega tsunami from a collapse of an unstable volcanic ridge caused by previous Cumbre Vieja volcanoes in 1949 and 1971 in La Palma in the Canary Islands. The threat was has been dramatically brought to life by a 2013 BBC Horizon programme called “Could We Survive A Mega-Tsunami?”. Unfortunately I could not find a link to the full programme but a taster can be found here.

The documentary detailed a scenario where a future eruption could cause a massive landslide of 500 km3 of rock crashing into the sea, causing multiple waves that would travel across the Atlantic Ocean and devastate major cities along the US east coast, as well as parts of Africa, Europe and southern England & Ireland. The damage would be unimaginable, causing over 4 million deaths and economic losses of over $800 billion. The impact of the damage on port and transport infrastructure would also result in horrible after event obstacles to rescue and recovery efforts.

The possibility of such a massive landslide resulting from a La Palma volcano has been disputed by many scientists. In 2006, Dutch scientists released research which stipulated that the south west flank of the island was stable and unlikely to fall into the sea for at least another 10,000 years. More recent research in 2013, has shown that 8 historical landslides associated with volcanoes in the Canary Islands have been staggered in discrete landslides and that the likelihood of one large 500 km3 landslide is therefore extremely remote. The report states:

“This has significant implications for geohazard assessments, as multistage failures reduce the magnitude of the associated tsunami. The multistage failure mechanism reduces individual landslide volumes from up to 350 km3 to less than 100 km3. Thus although multistage failure ultimately reduce the potential landslide and tsunami threat, the landslide events may still generate significant tsunamis close to source.”

Another graph from the research shows that timeframe over which such events should be viewed is in the thousands of years.

click to enlargeHistorical Volcanic & Landslide Activity Canary Islands

Whatever about the feasibility of the events dramatised in the BBC documentary, the scientists behind the latest research do highlight the difference between probability of occurrence and impact upon occurrence.

“Although the probability of a large-volume Canary Island flank collapse occurring is potentially low, this does not necessarily mean that the risk is low. Risk is dependent both on probability of occurrence and the resultant consequences of such events, namely generation of a tsunami(s). Therefore, determining landslide characteristics of past events will ultimately better inform tsunami modelling and risk assessments.”

And, after all, that’s what good risk management should be all about. Tsunami are caused by large infrequent events so, as with all natural catastrophes, we should be wary that historical event catalogues may be a poor guide to future hazards.

Smart money heading for the exits?

Private equity is rushing to the exits in London with such sterling businesses as Poundland and Pets at Home coming to the market. PE has exited insurance investments, following the successful DirectLine float, for names like Esure, Just Retirement, and Partnership. It was therefore interesting to see Apollo and CVC refloat 25% of BRIT Insurance last week after taking them off the market just 3 short years ago.

The private equity guys made out pretty good. They bought BRIT in 2011 for £890 million, restructured the business & sold the UK retail business and other renewal rights, took £550 million of dividends, and have now floating 25% of the business at a value of £960 million. To give them their due, they are now committing to a 6 month lock-up and BRIT have indicated a shareholder friendly dividend of £75 million plus a special dividend if results in 2014 are good.

I don’t really know BRIT that well since they have been given the once over by Apollo/CVC. Their portfolio looks like fairly standard Lloyds of London business. Although they highlight that they lead 50% of their business, I suspect that BRIT will come under pressure as the trend towards the bigger established London insurers continues. Below is a graph of the tangible book value multiples, based off today’s price, against the average three year calendar year combined ratio.

click to enlargeLondon Specialty Insurers NTA multiples March 2014

Lancashire…so much to answer for.

My bearishness on the reinsurance and specialty insurance sector is based upon my view of a lack of operating income upside due to the growing pricing pressures and poor investment income. I have posted many times (most recently here) on the book value multiple expansion that has driven valuations over the past few years. With operating income under pressure, further multiple expansion represents the only upside in valuations from here and that’s not a very attractive risk/reward profile in my view. So I am happy to go to the sidelines to observe from here.

So, what does this mean for my previously disclosed weak spot for Lancashire, one the richest valued names in the sector? Lancashire posted YE2013 results last week and disappointed the market on the size of its special dividend. As previously highlighted, its Cathedral acquisition marked a change in direction for Lancashire, one which has confused observers as to its future. During the conference call, in response to anxious analysts, management assured the market that M&A is behind it and that its remains a nimble lead specialist high risk/high return underwriter dedicated to maximising shareholder returns from a fixed capital base, despite the lower than expected final special dividend announced for 2013.

The graph below illustrates the past success of Lancashire. Writing large lead lines on property, energy, marine and aviation business has resulted in some astonishingly good underwriting returns for Lancashire in the past. The slowly increasing calendar year combined ratios for the past 5 years and the lack of meaningful reserve releases for the past two year (2013 even saw some reserve deterioration on old years) show the competitive pressures that have been building on Lancashire’s business model.

click to enlargeLancashire Combined Ratio Breakdown 2006 to 2013

The Cathedral acquisition offers Lancashire access to another block of specialist business (which does look stickier than some of Lancashire’s business, particularly on the property side). It also offers Lancashire access to Lloyds which could have some capital arbitrage advantages if Lancashire starts to write the energy and terrorism business through the Lloyds’ platform (as indicated by CEO Richard Brindle on the call). Including the impact of drastically reducing the property retrocession book for 2014, I estimate that the Cathedral deal will add approx 25% to GWP and NEP for 2014. Based upon indications during the call, I estimate that GWP breakdown for 2014 as per the graph below.

click to enlargeLancashire GWP Split

One attractive feature of Lancashire is that it has gone from a net seller of retrocession to a net buyer. Management highlighted the purchase of an additional $100 million in aggregate protection. This is reflected in the January 1 PML figures. Although both Lancashire and Cathedral write over 40% of their business in Q1, I have taken the January 1 PML figures as a percentage of the average earned premium figures from the prior and current year in the exhibit below.

click to enlargeLancashire PMLs January 2010 to January 2014

The graphs above clearly show that Lancashire is derisking its portfolio compared to the higher risk profile of the past two years (notably in relation to Japan). This is a clever way to play the current market. Notwithstanding this de-risking, the portfolio remains a high risk one with significant natural catastrophic exposure.

It is hard to factor in the Cathedral results without more historical data than the quarterly 2013 figures provided in the recent supplement (another presentation does provide historical ultimate loss ratio figures, which have steadily decreased over time for the acquired portfolio) and lsome of the CFO comments on the call referring to attritional loss ratios & 2013 reserve releases. I estimate a 68% combined ratio in 2014, absent significant catastrophe losses, which means an increase in the 2013 underwriting profit of $170 million to $220 million. With other income, such as investment income and fee income from the sidecar, 2014 could offer a return of the higher special dividend.

So, do I make an exception for Lancashire? First, even though the share price hasn’t performed well and currently trades around Stg7.30, the stock remains highly valued around 180% tangible book.  Second, pricing pressures mean that Lancashire will find it hard to make combined ratios for the combined entities significantly lower than the 70% achieved in 2013, in my view. So overall, although Lancashire is tempting (and will be more so if it falls further towards Stg7.00), my stance remains that the upside over the medium term does not compensate for the potential downside. Sometimes it is hard to remain disciplined……

Lancashire’s recent lackluster share performance

Lancashire (LRE.L) is a London quoted specialty insurer that writes short tail (mainly insurance) business in aviation, marine, energy, property catastrophe and terrorism classes. Set up after Hurricane Katrina, the company operates a high risk high reward business model, tightly focussed by the experienced hand of CEO Richard Brindle, with an emphasis on disciplined underwriting, tight capital management and generous shareholder returns. Shareholder’s equity is managed within a range between $1 billion and $1.5 billion with numerous shareholder friendly actions such as special dividends resulting in a cumulative shareholder return of 177% since the company’s inception over 7 years ago.

I am a fan of the company and own some shares, although not as many as in the past. I like their straight forward approach and their difference in a sector full of firms that seem to read from each other’s scripts (increasingly peppered with the latest risk management speak). That said, it does have a higher risk profile than many of its peers, as a previous post on PMLs illustrated. That profile allows it to achieve such superior shareholder returns. The market has rewarded Lancashire with a premium valuation based upon the high returns achieved over its short history as a March post on valuations showed.

However, over the past 6 months, Lancashire’s share price has underperformed against its peers, initially due to concerns over property catastrophe pricing pressures and more recently it’s announcement of the purchase of Lloyds of London based Cathedral Capital.

click to enlargeLondon Market Specialty Insurers Share Price 2012 to August 2013

Cathedral’s results over the past 5 years have been good, if not in the same league as Lancashire’s, and the price paid by Lancashire at 160% of net tangible assets is not cheap. Given the financing needs of the acquisition, the lack of room for any of Lancashire’s usual special dividend treats in the near term has been a contributing factor to the recent share price declines in my opinion.

Based upon the proforma net tangible assets of Lancashire at end Q2 as per the Cathedral presentation and the circular for the share offering, the graph below shows the net tangible valuation multiples of a number of the London market insurers using net tangible asset values as at end Q2 with market values based upon todays’ closing prices.

click to enlargeLondon Market Specialty Insurers Net Tangible Book Multiples August 2013

The multiples show that the market is now valuing Lancashire’s business at a level more akin to its peers rather than the premium valuation it previously enjoyed. Clearly, the acquisition of Cathedral raises questions over whether Lancashire will maintain its uniqueness in the future. That is certainly a concern. Also, integrating the firms and their cultures is an execution risk and heading into the peak of the US wind session could prove to be unwise timing.

Notwithstanding these issues, Brindle is an experienced operator and I would suspect that he is taking full advantage of the current arbitrage opportunities (as outlined in another post). It may take a quarter or two to fully understand the impact of the Cathedral acquisition on Lancashire’s risk/reward profile. I, for one, look forward to stalking the company to find an attractive entry point for increasing my position in anticipation of the return of Lancashire’s premium multiple.