INDUSTRY'S ROSY EARNINGS REPORTS CONCEAL AILMENTS, ANALYSTS SAY

INDUSTRY'S ROSY EARNINGS REPORTS CONCEAL AILMENTS, ANALYSTS SAY

While the insurance industry continues to post healthy operating results - figures for the first half of 1993 were issued last month - analysts are skeptical that the numbers tell the whole story.

The property/casualty insurance industry's consolidated after-tax net income for the first half of 1993 was $9.2 billion, 19.7 percent more than the $7.7 billion net income for first-half 1992, according to the New York-based Insurance Services Office, Inc.After-tax net income for second-quarter 1993 was $4.9 billion, a 77.7 percent increase from second-quarter 1992.

"Expressed as a rate of return, the industry earned an 11.4 percent rate of return on capital in the second quarter," said Sean Mooney, senior vice president and economist for the industry-supported Insurance Information Institute in an analysis of the figures. "This rate of return compares favorably with that of other industries. In 1992, the rate of return for the Fortune 500 was 9.1 percent.

"A key reason for the favorable results in the second quarter was that premiums showed a solid increase, while the cost of claims fell," Mr. Mooney said. "Net written premiums increased by 5.9 percent from a year ago, a faster rate than the first quarter increase of 3.6 percent, and almost triple the 2 percent rate of increase for full year 1992."

However, many industry analysts are unimpressed with the new figures, and warn that the healthy stock and bond markets have helped insurers hide the true state of affairs.

"The numbers that the III uses include realized gains, which have been extraordinary," said Gloria Vogel, first vice president with Lehman Brothers in New York. "But if you just look at operating numbers, the picture would be very different.

"I think the strength of the bond market has helped shelter companies

from reality. Insurers, by selling bonds, have been able to enhance their surplus. Surplus was up last year, and there is no way that would have happened if not for the bond market," Ms. Vogel said.

Myron Picoult, a senior vice president with Oppenheimer & Co., agreed.

"I don't consider the industry's numbers to be legitimate," he said. ''Investment income is going nowhere, pricing is doing nothing, companies are bringing down reserves and management is saying everything's fine. The numbers are as dirty as ever if not more so."

Although catastrophe figures so far this year pale in comparison with 1992, disasters past and future continue to have a huge impact on the industry.

"The losses continue," Ms. Vogel said. "Look at the recent Amtrak derailment. There will be high liability and property losses from that event."

Ms. Vogel predicted that catastrophes will be what eventually turns the property/casualty insurance cycle around.

"Whereas the worst possible catastrophe was considered a $20 billion event pre-Hurricane Andrew, the worst catastrophe is now considered to be in the realm of $30 billion to $40 billion," she said. "As such, companies are taking action to reduce their exposure.

"The lack of catastrophe reinsurance and the higher costs of reinsurance have led to an approximate doubling of retention levels. As such, the next cat (catastrophe) that exceeds the initial retention will hit earnings and surplus by double the Andrew amount."