• Return on equity of 19 percent in 2015 even as rates fell
  • Horton says insurer to remain independent after M&A flurry

Beazley Plc Chief Executive Officer Andrew Horton said the company’s return on equity of 19 percent in 2015 isn’t sustainable against a backdrop of increased competition and falling insurance rates.

“Margins are bound to come under pressure,” the CEO said in a telephone interview on Thursday after the company reported full-year results. “We managed to show top-line growth in a very competitive market where rates are reducing across many lines of business. It’s difficult for us to grow.”

Insurers are braced for prices to drop at least 10 percent in 2016 after one of the quietest years for catastrophe losses combined with record levels of capital available to underwrite risk. Horton reiterated the company’s desire to remain independent, after the pressure on pricing helped drive mergers and acquisitions among its peers, including Amlin Plc’s record $5.3 billion takeover by a Japanese competitor.

Pull Back

Beazley, the first of the Lloyd’s of London insurers to report full-year earnings, has been pulling back from less profitable lines of business including reinsurance, which accounted for less than 8 percent of its total premiums in 2015 compared with more than 10 percent two years ago. It’s instead expanded in indemnity, liability and property risks in North America, which comprised about 26 percent of premiums last year.

The insurer increased full-year pretax profit 8.4 percent to $284 million boosted by $176.3 million of reserves for claims set aside in previous years, the statement showed Thursday. Gross written premiums rose 3 percent to $2.08 billion and the combined ratio fell to 87 percent from 89 percent, showing an improvement in underwriting profit.

“The market is not getting any easier but the industry had some good fortune with a quiet claims environment in 2015, so we’ve had some luck in those results,” said Horton who is taking two months off work starting in March. “Our aim is to try and outperform our peers and maintain a good ROE but it will be difficult to continue to knock out 19 percent,” he said, referring to a measure of profitability.

The insurer also said it’s completed preparations to return its domicile to London from Ireland and will put the plan to shareholders in March.

The shares climbed 2.4 percent to 370 pence by 10:08 a.m. in London, trimming its loss this year to 6 percent.

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