STATE FARM TO REDUCE NORTH TEXAS EXPOSURE

STATE FARM TO REDUCE NORTH TEXAS EXPOSURE

The Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex may be one of the largest growing areas of the nation, but when it comes to market leader State Farm, it is bad news.

That's why after six years of above-average hail storms and about $1.3 billion in catastrophic losses, the insurance giant will start cutting back its exposure to $52 billion in the northern part of the state as of Friday, spokeswoman Judy Bower said Tuesday.State Farm follows the second-largest insurer in the state, Farmers Insurance Group, out of north Texas, where disaster claims in first five months of 1995 have already exceeded $420 million, said Ms. Bower.

Texas is the second catastrophe-prone state where State Farm is cutting back on the number of properties insured. State Farm will write no new homeowners policies in Florida as of Sept. 1.

In Texas, State Farm has instructed agents that when a homeowners policy isn't renewed or is canceled, the agent can only write a new policy for less than the amount than the old one covered. Renewing homeowners are not affected by the restrictions.

"We've been in business for almost 75 years and we know best how to protect our customers. We want to be here for the long run," Ms. Bower said. We insure one in three homes in the Metroplex. We have stepped up to plate and taken on our share of the market."

One in three homes and businesses in the five counties that make up the Metroplex are insured through State Farm, she said.

The reduction has infuriated the state's Insurance Department. In a statement, Commissioner Elton Bomer accused State Farm of having a "short- term, kneejerk reaction to a bad hail season. State Farm has increased its writings during the last five years and now suddenly wants to reduce its writings over a short period of time. I think that it is very harmful to the insurance market."

But Ms. Bower said the decision to cut back was part of the exposure management plan the company put into effect in 1993.

"We continue to always look at the way we do business," she said. "This was not a sudden reaction."

Al Orendorf, a spokesman for Allstate, said the company is not considering restrictions in Texas.

"We are not looking at our homeowners underwriting in Texas," he said. ''It isn't likely."

Rick Gentry, regional vice president of the Insurance Information Institute office in Austin, defended State Farm.

"Most insurance companies operating in Texas are doing everything they can to remain in this state," he said. "Unfortunately, companies are sometimes criticized for reevaluating their exposures in given states and their ability and duty to meet the obligations of their existing customers."

He said State Farm should be "applauded for taking the initiative and for reviewing their current book of business."

"I think that most companies are very wise to take whatever actions are necessary in response to these billion dollar plus hail losses we have had in Texas this year," he said. "I don't think there is anything 'kneejerk' about looking at your hole card."