Tag Archives: price tangible book values

Insurance M&A Pickup

It’s been a while since I posted on the specialty insurance sector and I hope to post some more detailed thoughts and analysis when I get the time in the coming months. M&A activity has picked up recently with the XL/AXA and AIG/Validus deals being the latest examples of big insurers bulking up through M&A. Deloitte has an interesting report out on some of the factors behind the increased activity. The graph below shows the trend of the average price to book M&A multiples for P&C insurers.

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As regular readers will know, my preferred metric is price to tangible book value and the exhibit below shows that the multiples on recent deals are increasing and well above the standard multiple around 1.5X. That said, the prices are not as high as the silly prices of above 2X paid by Japanese insurers in 2015. Not yet anyway!

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Unless there are major synergies, either on the operating side or on the capital side (which seems to be AXA’s justification for the near 2X multiple on the XL deal), I just can’t see how a 2X multiple is justified in a mature sector. Assuming these firms can earn a 10% return on tangible assets over multiple cycles, a 2X multiple equates to 20X earnings!

Time will tell who the next M&A target will be….

Insurers keep on swinging

In a previous post, I compared the M&A action in the reinsurance and specialty insurance space to a rush for the bowl of keys in a swingers party. Well, the ACE/Chubb deal has brought the party to a new level where anything seems possible. The only rule now seems to be a size restriction to avoid a G-SIFI label (although MetLife and certain US stakeholders are fighting to water down those proposals for insurers).

I expanded the number of insurers in my pool for an update of the tangible book multiples (see previous post from December) as per the graphic below. As always, these figures come with a health warning in that care needs to be taken when comparing US, European and UK firms due to the differing accounting treatment (for example I have kept the present value of future profits as a tangible item). I estimated the 2015 ROE based upon Q1 results and my view of the current market for the 2011 to 2015 average.

click to enlargeReinsurers & Specialty Insurers NTA Multiples July 2015

I am not knowledgeable enough to speculate on who may be the most likely next couplings (for what its worth, regular readers will know I think Lancashire will be a target at some stage). This article outlines who Eamonn Flanagan at Shore Capital thinks is next, with Amlin being his top pick. What is clear is that the valuation of many players is primarily based upon their M&A potential rather than the underlying operating results given pricing in the market. Reinsurance pricing seems to have stabilised although I suspect policy terms & conditions remains an area of concern. On the commercial insurance side, reports from market participants like Lockton (see here) and Towers Watson (see graph below) show an ever competitive market.

click to enlargeCommercial Lines Insurance Pricing Survey Towers Watson Q1 2015

Experience has thought me that pricing is the key to future results for insurers and, although the market is much more disciplined than the late 1990s, I think many will be lucky to produce double-digit ROEs in the near term on an accident year basis (beware those dipping too much into the reserve pot!).

I am also nervous about the amount of unrealised gains which are inflating book values that may reverse when interest rates rise. For example, unrealised gains make up 8%, 13% and 18% of the Hartford, Zurich, and Swiss Re’s book value respectively as at Q1. So investing primarily to pick up an M&A premium seems like a mugs game to me in the current market.

M&A obviously brings considerable execution risk which may result in one plus one not equalling two. Accepting that the financial crisis hit the big guys like AIG and Hartford pretty hard, the graph below suggests that being too big may not be beautiful where average ROE (and by extension, market valuation) is the metric for beauty.

click to enlargeIs big beautiful in insurance

In fact, the graph above suggests that the $15-$25 billion range in terms of premiums may be the sweet spot for ROE. Staying as a specialist in the $2-7 billion premium range may have worked in the past but, I suspect, will be harder to replicate in the future.

Updated Insurance Multiples

It has been a while since I looked at net tangible asset multiples for reinsurers and selected specialty insurers (the last such post is here). Motivated by the collapse in Lancashire’s multiple (briefly mentioned in a previous post) since they went ex-dividend, I redid the tangible book multiple figures. Previously I have used average operating ROEs as the x-axis but this time I have used annualized total returns since year-end 2010 (to capture the 2011 catastrophe year with the recent results of the past 3 years). Annualized total returns are made up of tangible book growth and dividends paid in 2011 to today. The split between tangible book growth and dividends, on an annualized basis across the past 4 years, for each firm as per the graph below (when calculating tangible book values, as is my usual practise disclosed previously, I excluded all goodwill and intangibles, except for the present value of future profits (PVFP) for life reinsurance business for European reinsurers).

click to enlargeReinsurers & Specialty Insurer Total Return December 2014

The graph of tangible book multiples to annualized returns is below. [Note – although insurance accounting has converged somewhat in recent years, caution still needs to be taken when comparing UK, European, and Bermudian/US firms due to the differing accounting regimes under which results are reported].

click to enlargeReinsurers & Specialty Insurers NTA Multiples December 2014

I split the firms into different colours – green is for the Bermudian & US firms, red is for London market firms, and blue is for the European composite reinsurers. In terms of who else may get involved in M&A following the Renaissance/Platinum deal, its interesting to see most of the Bermudians bunched up so close to each other in valuation and return profiles. The higher valued and larger firms may be the instigators in taking over smaller competitors but it looks more likely that medium sized firms need to get with today’s realities and seek tie-ups together. Who will wait it out in the hope of some market changing event or who will get it together in 2015 will be fascinating to watch!!

Follow-on: To get an idea of historical changes in the tangible book multiples in the three groupings above, the graph below shows the trends. The multiples in each year are simple averages across the firms (and not all are at the same point in the year) but the graph nonetheless gives an idea of changing market sentiment. Although the London and European firms are a smaller sample than the Bermudian/US firms, the graph indicates that the market is confident that the underwriting indiscipline of years past have been overcome in the London market, thus justifying a premium multiple. Time will tell on that score…..

click to enlargeHistorical Tangible Book Multiples for Reinsurers & Specialty Insurers

Updated TBV multiples of specialty insurers & reinsurers

As it has been almost 6 months until my last post on the tangible book value multiples for selected reinsurers and specialty insurers I thought it was an opportune time to post an update, as per graph the below.

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TBV Multiples Specialty Insurers & Reinsurers September 2013I tend to focus on tangible book value as I believe it is the most appropriate metric for equity investors. Many insurers have sub-debt or hybrid instruments that is treated as equity for solvency purposes. Although these additional buffers are a comfort to regulators, they do little for equity investors in distress.

In general, I discount intangible items as I believe they are the first thing that gets written off when a business gets into trouble. The only intangible item that I included in the calculations above is the present value of future profits (PVFP) for acquired life blocks of business. Although this item is highly interest rate sensitive and may be subject to write downs if the underlying life business deteriorates, I think they do have some value. Whether its 100% of the item is something to consider. Under Solvency II, PVFP will be treated as capital (although the tiering of the item has been the subject of debate). Some firms, particularly the European composite reinsurers, have a material amount (e.g. for Swiss Re PVFP makes up 12% of shareholders equity).

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.