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Travelers Cos. 1Q profit falls 32 percent

The Travelers Cos. reported on Thursday a 32 percent drop in first-quarter profit, primarily due to losses on its investments, and confirmed full-year guidance well below analysts' estimates.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Travelers Cos. reported on Thursday a 32 percent drop in first-quarter profit, primarily due to losses on its investments, and confirmed full-year guidance well below analysts' estimates.

Shares dropped more than 4 percent in late morning trading, falling $1.88 to $40.68.

The St. Paul, Minnesota-based property and casualty insurer earned $662 million, or $1.11 per share, in the January-March period. This compares with earnings of $967 million, or $1.54 per share, a year earlier.

Results included $137 million in net realized investment losses, compared with $41 million in the 2008 first quarter.

Operating income, or income excluding investment gains and losses, fell to $799 million, or $1.34 per share, from $1.01 billion, or $1.60 per share, in the first quarter of last year.

Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters, on average, were expecting earnings of $1.31 per share.

Net written premiums rose slightly to $5.20 billion from $5.19 billion in the prior-year quarter.

The company said new business volumes were slightly lower as incremental growth in its business insurance segment was more than offset by lower volumes in financial, professional and international insurance and personal insurance.

Still, the uptick in volume in the business insurance segment was encouraging. New business in that unit rose 1 percent year-over-year. This was the first year-over-year increase in more than two years, and a significant improvement from the 7 percent and 8 percent declines early last year, said President and Chief Operating Officer Brian MacLean during a conference call with analysts.

"We feel very good about the profitability of the business," he said, citing both an improvement in the rate environment and a "flight to quality" mentality of clients as contributing to the results.

Net investment income slipped 27 percent to $474 million from $650 million a year earlier.

Catastrophe losses declined to $54 million from $62 million.

Travelers said its combined ratio for the quarter rose to 90.6 percent from 87.6 percent in the first quarter of last year.

Combined ratio measures the amount of money an insurer generates from writing new premiums compared with how much it pays out in claims and other expenses. A ratio above 100 percent means an insurer is paying out more in claims and expenses than it receives from generating new policies.

Travelers continues to expect full-year operating income of $4.50 to $4.90 per share. This guidance assumes catastrophe losses of $360 million. Analysts are calling for a profit of $5.39 per share.

In 2008, Travelers earned $2.92 billion, or $4.82 per share.