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MCY > SEC Filings for MCY > Form 10-Q on 31-Oct-2012All Recent SEC Filings

Show all filings for MERCURY GENERAL CORP



Quarterly Report

Item 2. Management's Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations

Cautionary Statements
Certain statements in this Quarterly Report on Form 10-Q or in other materials the Company has filed or will file with the Securities and Exchange Commission ("SEC") (as well as information included in oral statements or other written statements made or to be made by the Company) contain or may contain "forward-looking statements" within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended. These forward-looking statements may address, among other things, the Company's strategy for growth, business development, regulatory approvals, market position, expenditures, financial results, and reserves. Forward-looking statements are not guarantees of performance and are subject to important factors and events that could cause the Company's actual business, prospects, and results of operations to differ materially from the historical information contained in this Quarterly Report on Form 10-Q and from those that may be expressed or implied by the forward-looking statements contained in this Quarterly Report on Form 10-Q and in other reports or public statements made by the Company.
Factors that could cause or contribute to such differences include, among others: the competition currently existing in the automobile insurance markets in California and the other states in which the Company operates; the cyclical and generally competitive nature of the property and casualty insurance industry and general uncertainties regarding loss reserves or other estimates; the accuracy and adequacy of the Company's pricing methodologies; the Company's success in managing its business in states outside of California; the impact of potential third party "bad-faith" legislation, changes in laws, regulations or new interpretation of existing laws and regulations, tax position challenges by the FTB, and decisions of courts, regulators and governmental bodies, particularly in California; the Company's ability to obtain and the timing of required regulatory approvals of premium rate changes for insurance policies issued in states where the Company operates; the Company's reliance on independent agents to market and distribute its policies; the investment yields the Company is able to obtain with its investments and the market risks associated with the Company's investment portfolio; the effect government policies may have on market interest rates; uncertainties related to assumptions and projections generally, inflation and changes in economic conditions; changes in driving patterns and loss trends; acts of war and terrorist activities; court decisions, trends in litigation, and health care and auto repair costs; adverse weather conditions or natural disasters in the markets served by the Company; the stability of the Company's information technology systems and the ability of the Company to execute on its information technology initiatives; the Company's ability to realize current deferred tax assets or to hold certain securities with current loss positions to recovery or maturity; and other uncertainties, all of which are difficult to predict and many of which are beyond the Company's control. GAAP prescribes when a Company may reserve for particular risks including litigation exposures. Accordingly, results for a given reporting period could be significantly affected if and when a reserve is established for a major contingency. Reported results may therefore appear to be volatile in certain periods.
The Company undertakes no obligation to publicly update any forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information or future events or otherwise. Investors are cautioned not to place undue reliance on any forward-looking statements, which speak only as of the date of this Quarterly Report on Form 10-Q or, in the case of any document the Company incorporates by reference, any other report filed with the SEC or any other public statement made by the Company, the date of the document, report, or statement. Investors should also understand that it is not possible to predict or identify all factors and should not consider the risks set forth above to be a complete statement of all potential risks and uncertainties. If the expectations or assumptions underlying the Company's forward-looking statements prove inaccurate or if risks or uncertainties arise, actual results could differ materially from those predicted in any forward-looking statements. The factors identified above are believed to be some, but not all, of the important factors that could cause actual events and results to be significantly different from those that may be expressed or implied in any forward-looking statements. Any forward-looking statements should also be considered in light of the information provided in "Item 1A. Risk Factors" in the Company's Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2011 and in Item 1A. Risk Factors in Part II - Other Information of this Quarterly Report on Form 10-Q.

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A. General
The operating results of property and casualty insurance companies are subject to significant quarter-to-quarter and year-to-year fluctuations due to the effect of competition on pricing, the frequency and severity of losses, the effect of weather and natural disasters on losses, general economic conditions, the general regulatory environment in states in which an insurer operates, state regulation of insurance including premium rates, changes in fair value of investments, and other factors such as changes in tax laws. The property and casualty insurance industry has been highly cyclical, with periods of high premium rates and shortages of underwriting capacity followed by periods of severe price competition and excess capacity. These cycles can have a large impact on the Company's ability to grow and retain business.
This section discusses some of the relevant factors that management considers in evaluating the Company's performance, prospects, and risks. It is not all-inclusive and is meant to be read in conjunction with the entirety of management's discussion and analysis, the Company's condensed consolidated financial statements and notes thereto, and all other items contained within this Quarterly Report on Form 10-Q.

B. Business
The Company is primarily engaged in writing personal automobile insurance through 13 insurance subsidiaries ("Insurance Companies"). The Company also writes homeowners, commercial automobile and property, mechanical breakdown, fire, and umbrella insurance. These policies are mostly sold through independent agents who receive a commission for selling policies. The Company believes that it has thorough underwriting and claims handling processes that provide the Company with advantages over its competitors. The Company views its agent relationships and its underwriting and claims handling processes as its primary competitive advantages because they allow the Company to charge lower prices while realizing better margins than many competitors.
The Company operates primarily in California, the only state in which it operated prior to 1990. The Company has since expanded its operations into Georgia, Illinois, Oklahoma, Texas, Florida, Virginia, New York, New Jersey, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Nevada. The direct premiums written during the nine months ended September 30, 2012 and 2011 by state and line of business were:

Nine Months Ended September 30, 2012
(Amounts in thousands)

                           Private                        Commercial
                       Passenger Auto      Homeowners        Auto         Other Lines         Total
California            $     1,250,238     $  192,606     $    30,644     $     48,325     $ 1,521,813         76.1 %
Florida (1)                   125,218           (181 )        11,583            5,704         142,324          7.1 %
Texas                          47,184          7,894           6,568           19,012          80,658          4.0 %
New Jersey                     55,746          2,604               0              324          58,674          2.9 %
Other states                  133,057         36,881           7,032           19,749         196,719          9.9 %
Total                 $     1,611,443     $  239,804     $    55,827     $     93,114     $ 2,000,188        100.0 %
                                 80.6 %         12.0 %           2.8 %            4.6 %         100.0 %

(1) The Company has ceased writing homeowners policies in Florida.

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                      Nine Months Ended September 30, 2011
                             (Amounts in thousands)

                           Private                        Commercial
                       Passenger Auto      Homeowners        Auto         Other Lines         Total
California            $     1,221,443     $  177,506     $    39,002     $     42,052     $ 1,480,003         75.5 %
Florida                       128,284          7,770          11,343            7,101         154,498          7.9 %
Texas                          46,914          2,820           3,999           17,337          71,070          3.6 %
New Jersey                     66,851          1,701               0              377          68,929          3.5 %
Other states                  135,418         26,938           5,271           17,847         185,474          9.5 %
Total                 $     1,598,910     $  216,735     $    59,615     $     84,714     $ 1,959,974        100.0 %
                                 81.6 %         11.1 %           3.0 %            4.3 %         100.0 %

C. Regulatory and Litigation Matters
The Department of Insurance ("DOI") in each state in which the Company operates
is responsible for conducting periodic financial and market conduct examinations
of the Insurance Companies in their states. Market conduct examinations
typically review compliance with insurance statutes and regulations with respect
to rating, underwriting, claims handling, billing, and other practices. The
following table presents a summary of current financial and market conduct

State         Exam Type         Period Under Review                Status
  NV     Market Conduct         Jan 2009 to Dec 2011   Fieldwork completed. Awaiting
                                                       final report.

During the course of and at the conclusion of these examinations, the examining DOI generally reports findings to the Company and none of the findings reported to date is expected to be material to the Company's financial position. The Company received approval from the California DOI to increase California personal automobile premium rates by approximately 4%. The new rate was implemented on October 26, 2012. While the rate increase is not expected to have a significant impact on the number of new and renewal policies written, the full extent of the impact is currently unknown.
In May 2009, the Company filed for a 3.9% rate increase for its California homeowners line of business. In May 2011, the matter was referred to an administrative law judge for review. After extensive evidentiary hearings, the administrative law judge delivered a proposed decision on the matter to the California Insurance Commissioner in September 2012 that recommended a rate reduction of approximately 5.5%. On October 29, 2012, the Company received notice from the California Insurance Commissioner that rejected the administrative law judge's proposed decision and referred the matter back to the administrative law judge to gather more evidence. The Company disagrees with the administrative law judge's proposed decision and will continue to pursue rates that allow a fair rate of return for its homeowners line of business. The Company expects that this matter will not be resolved until sometime in 2013. In April 2010, the California DOI issued a Notice of Non-Compliance ("2010 NNC") to Mercury Insurance Company ("MIC"), Mercury Casualty Company ("MCC"), and California Automobile Insurance Company ("CAIC") based on a Report of Examination of the Rating and Underwriting Practices of these companies issued by the California DOI in February 2010. The 2010 NNC includes allegations of 35 instances of noncompliance with applicable California insurance law and seeks to require that each of MIC, MCC, and CAIC change its rating and underwriting practices to rectify the alleged noncompliance and may also seek monetary penalties. In April 2010, the Company submitted a Statement of Compliance and Notice of Defense to the 2010 NNC, in which it denied the allegations contained in the 2010 NNC and provided specific defenses to each allegation. The Company also requested a hearing in the event that the Statement of Compliance and Notice of Defense does not establish to the satisfaction of the California DOI that the alleged noncompliance does not exist, and the matters described in the 2010 NNC are not otherwise able to be resolved informally with the California DOI. However, no assurance can be given that efforts to resolve the 2010 NNC informally will be successful.
In March 2006, the California DOI issued an Amended Notice of Non-Compliance to a Notice of Non-Compliance originally issued in February 2004 (as amended, "2004 NNC") alleging that the Company charged rates in violation of the California Insurance Code, willfully permitted its agents to charge broker fees in violation of California law, and willfully misrepresented the actual price insurance consumers could expect to pay for insurance by the amount of a fee charged by the consumer's insurance broker. The California DOI seeks to impose a fine for each policy in which the Company allegedly permitted an agent to charge a broker fee, which the California DOI contends is the use of an unapproved rate, rating plan or rating system. Further, the California DOI seeks to impose a penalty for each and every date on which the Company allegedly used a misleading advertisement alleged in the 2004 NNC. Finally, based upon the conduct alleged, the California DOI also contends that the Company acted fraudulently

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in violation of Section 704(a) of the California Insurance Code, which permits the California Commissioner of Insurance to suspend certificates of authority for a period of one year. The Company filed a Notice of Defense in response to the 2004 NNC. On January 31, 2012, the administrative law judge bifurcated the 2004 NNC, ordering separate hearings on (a) the California DOI's order to show cause, in which the California DOI asserts false advertising allegations against the Company, and accusation, and (b) the California DOI's notice of noncompliance, in which the California DOI alleges that the Company used unlawful rates. On February 3, 2012, the administrative law judge submitted a proposed decision that dismissed the California DOI's allegations that the Company used unlawful rates and recommended its adoption as the decision of the Insurance Commissioner. On March 30, 2012, the California Insurance Commissioner rejected the administrative law judge's proposed decision. The Company challenged the rejection of the administrative law judge's proposed decision in Los Angeles Superior Court on April 19, 2012. The California Insurance Commissioner filed a demurrer to the Company's petition on June 4, 2012. Following a hearing on the Company's petition on September 14, 2012, the trial court sustained the California Insurance Commissioner's demurrer without leave to amend. The Company has filed a notice of appeal of the trial court's decision.
The Company denies the allegations in the 2004 and 2010 NNC matters, and believes that no monetary penalties are warranted, and the Company intends to defend itself against the allegations vigorously. The Company has been subject to fines and penalties by the California DOI in the past due to alleged violations of the California Insurance Code. The largest and most recent of these was settled in 2008 for $300,000. However, prior settlement amounts are not necessarily indicative of the potential results in the current notice of non-compliance matters. Based upon its understanding of the facts and the California Insurance Code, the Company does not expect that the ultimate resolution of the 2004 and 2010 NNC matters will be material to the Company's financial position. The Company has accrued a liability for the estimated cost to defend itself in the notice of non-compliance matters.
The Company is, from time to time, named as a defendant in various lawsuits or regulatory actions incidental to its insurance business. The majority of lawsuits brought against the Company relate to insurance claims that arise in the normal course of business and are reserved for through the reserving process. For a discussion of the Company's reserving methods, see the Company's Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2011.
The Company also establishes reserves for non-insurance claims related lawsuits, regulatory actions, and other contingencies for which the Company is able to estimate its potential exposure and when the Company believes a loss is probable. For loss contingencies believed to be reasonably possible, the Company also discloses the nature of the loss contingency and an estimate of the possible loss, range of loss, or a statement that such an estimate cannot be made. While actual losses may differ from the amounts recorded and the ultimate outcome of the Company's pending actions is generally not yet determinable, the Company does not believe that the ultimate resolution of currently pending legal or regulatory proceedings, either individually or in the aggregate, will have a material adverse effect on its financial condition, results of operations, or cash flows.
In all cases, the Company vigorously defends itself unless a reasonable settlement appears appropriate. For a discussion of legal matters, see the Company's Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2011. D. Critical Accounting Policies and Estimates Reserves
Preparation of the Company's consolidated financial statements requires judgment and estimates. The most significant is the estimate of loss reserves. Estimating loss reserves is a difficult process as many factors can ultimately affect the final settlement of a claim and, therefore, the reserve that is required. Changes in the regulatory and legal environment, results of litigation, medical costs, the cost of repair materials, and labor rates, among other factors, can impact ultimate claim costs. In addition, time can be a critical part of reserving determinations since the longer the span between the incidence of a loss and the payment or settlement of a claim, the more variable the ultimate settlement amount could be. Accordingly, short-tail claims, such as property damage claims, tend to be more reasonably predictable than long-tail liability claims.
The Company also engages an independent actuarial consultant to review the Company's reserves and to provide the annual actuarial opinions required under state statutory accounting requirements. The Company does not rely on the actuarial consultant for GAAP reporting or periodic report disclosure purposes. The Company analyzes loss reserves quarterly primarily using the incurred loss, claim count development, and average severity methods described below. The Company also uses the paid loss development method to analyze loss adjustment expense reserves as part of its reserve analysis. When deciding among methods to use, the Company evaluates the credibility of each method based on the maturity of the data available and the claims settlement practices for each particular line of business or coverage within a line of business. When establishing the reserve, the Company will generally analyze the results from all of the methods used rather than relying on a single method. While these methods are designed to determine the ultimate losses on claims under the Company's policies, there is inherent uncertainty in all actuarial models since they use historical data to project outcomes. The Company believes that the techniques it uses provide a reasonable basis in estimating loss reserves.

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The incurred loss development method analyzes historical incurred case loss (case reserves plus paid losses) development to estimate ultimate losses. The Company applies development factors against current case incurred losses by accident period to calculate ultimate expected losses. The Company believes that the incurred loss development method provides a reasonable basis for evaluating ultimate losses, particularly in the Company's larger, more established lines of business which have a long operating history.

The average severity method analyzes historical loss payments and/or incurred losses divided by closed claims and/or total claims to calculate an estimated average cost per claim. From this, the expected ultimate average cost per claim can be estimated. The average severity method coupled with the claim count development method provides meaningful information regarding inflation and frequency trends that the Company believes is useful in establishing reserves. The claim count development method analyzes historical claim count development to estimate future incurred claim count development for current claims. The Company applies these development factors against current claim counts by accident period to calculate ultimate expected claim counts.

The paid loss development method analyzes historical payment patterns to estimate the amount of losses yet to be paid. The Company uses this method for losses and loss adjustment expenses.

At September 30, 2012, the Company recorded its point estimate of $978.4 million in losses and loss adjustment expenses liabilities which include $373.0 million of incurred but not reported ("IBNR") loss reserves. IBNR includes estimates, based upon past experience, of ultimate developed costs, which may differ from case estimates, unreported claims that occurred on or prior to September 30, 2012, and estimated future payments for reopened claims. Management believes that the liability for losses and loss adjustment expenses is adequate to cover the ultimate net cost of losses and loss adjustment expenses incurred to date; however, since the provisions are necessarily based upon estimates, the ultimate liability may be more or less than such provisions.
The Company evaluates its reserves quarterly. When management determines that the estimated ultimate claim cost requires a decrease for previously reported accident years, favorable development occurs and a reduction in losses and loss adjustment expenses is reported in the current period. If the estimated ultimate claim cost requires an increase for previously reported accident years, unfavorable development occurs and an increase in losses and loss adjustment expenses is reported in the current period. For the nine months ended September 30, 2012, the Company reported unfavorable development of approximately $33 million on the 2011 and prior accident years' losses and loss adjustment expense reserves, which at December 31, 2011 totaled approximately $1 billion. The unfavorable development in 2012 is largely the result of re-estimates of California bodily injury losses which have experienced both higher average severities and more late reported claims (claim count development) than originally estimated at December 31, 2011.
For a further discussion of the Company's reserving methods, see the Company's Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2011. Premiums
The Company's insurance premiums are recognized as income ratably over the term of the policies and in proportion to the amount of insurance protection provided. Unearned premiums are carried as a liability on the consolidated balance sheet and are computed on a monthly pro-rata basis. The Company evaluates its unearned premiums periodically for premium deficiencies by comparing the sum of expected claim costs, unamortized acquisition costs, and maintenance costs partially offset by investment income to related unearned premiums. To the extent that any of the Company's lines of business become unprofitable, a premium deficiency reserve may be required. Investments
The Company's fixed maturity and equity investments are classified as "trading" and carried at fair value as required when applying the fair value option, with changes in fair value reflected in net realized investment gains or losses in the consolidated statements of operations. The majority of equity holdings, including non-redeemable preferred stocks, is actively traded on national exchanges or trading markets, and is valued at the last transaction price on the balance sheet dates.
Fair Value of Financial Instruments
The financial instruments recorded in the consolidated balance sheets include investments, receivables, interest rate swap agreements, accounts payable, equity contracts, and secured notes payable. The fair value of a financial instrument is the price that would be received to sell an asset or paid to transfer a liability in an orderly transaction between market participants at the measurement date. Due to their short-term maturity, the carrying values of receivables and accounts payable approximate their fair market values. All investments are carried on the consolidated balance sheets at fair value, as disclosed in Note 3 of Condensed Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements.

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The Company's financial instruments include securities issued by the U.S. government and its agencies, securities issued by states and municipal governments and agencies, certain corporate and other debt securities, equity securities, and exchange traded funds. Approximately 97% of the fair value of the financial instruments held at September 30, 2012 is based on observable market prices, observable market parameters, or is derived from such prices or parameters. The availability of observable market prices and pricing parameters can vary by financial instrument. Observable market prices and pricing parameters of a financial instrument, or a related financial instrument, are used to derive a price without requiring significant judgment. The Company may hold or acquire financial instruments that lack observable market prices or market parameters currently or in future periods because they are less actively traded. The fair value of such instruments is determined using techniques appropriate for each particular financial instrument. These techniques may involve some degree of judgment. The price transparency of the particular financial instrument will determine the degree of judgment involved in determining the fair value of the Company's financial instruments. Price transparency is affected by a wide variety of factors, including, for example, the type of financial instrument, whether it is a new financial instrument and not yet established in the marketplace, and the characteristics particular to the transaction. Financial instruments for which actively quoted prices or pricing parameters are available or for which fair value is derived from actively quoted prices or pricing parameters will generally have a higher degree of price transparency. By contrast, financial instruments that are thinly traded or not quoted will generally have diminished price transparency. Even in normally active markets, the price transparency for actively quoted instruments may be reduced for periods of time during periods of market dislocation. . . .

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