Just a little over two weeks ago, I suggested that American International Group Inc (NYSE:AIG) was still a work in progress. While AIG stock is more or less on the right track (though still miles away from the end-zone), I broadly concluded the insurer had more important matters to take care of than work on its intended acquisition of Validus Holdings, Ltd. (NYSE:VR). Namely, it had to figure out how to get much better at underwriting if American International Group stock was going to become worth owning again.
Wednesday evening’s fourth-quarter earnings report doesn’t change my view on AIG stock by one iota. The company is still a work in progress, and still alarmingly far away from where it needs to be.
AIG Stock: Earnings Recap
For the quarter ending in December, AIG lost $6.7 billion. The bulk of that loss, however, was the impact of a one-time charge related to recently rewritten tax rules that forced the recognition of tax liabilities rather than allowing them to be postponed. Still, taking those costs out, AIG saw $762 million in net losses from catastrophic insurance claims for the quarter, and net losses related to catastrophic insurance claims of $4.2 billion for the year.
In its defense, rival insurers ran into similar catastrophic claims trouble last year as well. Allstate Corp (NYSE:ALL) and Chubb Ltd (NYSE:CB) took $3.2 billion in losses and $2.2 billion in losses stemming from catastrophic coverage. When all was said and done though, American International Group’s net catastrophic coverage costs seemed to hurt AIG stock more than the stock of those two other insurers.
Stripping out the adverse impact of losses mostly stemming from wildfires in California, AIG earned 57-cents-per-share. That’s still less than the 75-cents-per-share of AIG stock analysts were collectively expecting.
CEO Brian Duperreault commented on the results, and the future, “The fourth quarter was another important step forward in positioning AIG for the future. Since I joined the company in May, we’ve added to our talent base, assessed and initiated underwriting actions, and established a new operating structure. 2017 represents a starting point from which we expect to build and 2018 will be a year of execution.”
While Duperreault acknowledged that 2017 was something of a reset year setting the stage for an overhaul effort this year, he isn’t exactly doing himself any favors to that end.
This isn’t the first time Duperreault has worked for American International Group. He left in 1994, after 21 years with AIG, and eventually founded and served as CEO of the Hamilton Insurance Group. He returned in May of last year, replacing Peter Hancock who proved to be more of a banker than an insurance guy. As he explained at the time, “I recognize the value of the company’s multiline structure. I didn’t come here to break the company up. I came here to grow it.”
Part of that growth is the move into the reinsurance market, via the aforementioned acquisition of Validus. More deals are likely on the way too, though it’s not yet clear if the company has solved any of its underwriting challenges in the meantime. They certainly don’t look solved, however, in light of the $762 million in catastrophic losses it booked last quarter.
It’s not unheard of for claims to exceed losses from time to time for an insurer. It’s a bit unusual, however, for an insurer to struggle with such losses as deeply as AIG has for as long as it has.
Bottom Line for American International Group
In January, I concluded “It’s possible Duperreault is looking to make deals just for the sake of deal-making, distracting from taking on more relevant, critical challenges.”
That premise still applies after Q4’s report.
That’s not to suggest it can’t change. Former Marsh & McLennan Companies, Inc. (NYSE:MMC) executive Peter Zaffino was recently brought in to broadly oversee AIG’s insurance operation, while Tom Bolt, who formerly held a similar role with Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance, was named American International Group’s Chief Underwriting Officer in December. Between the two, the company’s underwriting woes could still be shored up, while Duperreault focuses on acquisitions.
It’s a tall order though, given the scope of the company’s underwriting hurdles ahead. The company may simply be trying to do so much at the same time with so many new personalities in play that it all ends up being muddied for a while longer.
As of this writing, James Brumley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities. You can follow him on Twitter, at @jbrumley.