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MCY > SEC Filings for MCY > Form 10-K on 10-Feb-2014All Recent SEC Filings

Show all filings for MERCURY GENERAL CORP

Form 10-K for MERCURY GENERAL CORP


10-Feb-2014

Annual Report


Item 7. Management's Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations

Cautionary Statements

Certain statements in this Annual Report on Form 10-K or in other materials the Company has filed or will file with the 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 Annual Report on Form 10-K and from those that may be expressed or implied by the forward-looking statements contained in this Annual Report on Form 10-K 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 non-California business; the impact of potential third party "bad-faith" legislation, changes in laws, regulations or new interpretations of existing laws and regulations, tax position challenges by the California Franchise Tax Board ("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 on 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, including those which may be related to climate change, 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 deferred tax assets or to hold certain securities with current loss positions to recovery or maturity; and other risks and uncertainties, including but not limited to those discussed in "Risk Factors" in Item 1A of this Annual Report on Form 10-K or that are otherwise described or updated from time to time in the Company's SEC filings, 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.

From time to time, forward-looking statements are also included in the Company's quarterly reports on Form 10-Q and current reports on Form 8-K, in press releases, in presentations, on its web site, and in other materials released to the public. 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 Annual Report on Form 10-K 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.

OVERVIEW
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 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.

The Company is headquartered in Los Angeles, California and operates primarily as a personal automobile insurer selling policies through a network of independent agents in thirteen states: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia. The Company also offers homeowners, commercial automobile, commercial property, mechanical breakdown, fire, and umbrella insurance. Private passenger automobile lines of insurance accounted for 79.1% of the $2.7 billion of the Company's direct premiums written in 2013. 81.3% of the private passenger automobile premiums were written in California.

The Company expects to continue its growth by expanding into new states in the future to achieve greater geographic diversification. There are challenges and risks involved in entering each new state, including establishing adequate rates without any operating history in the state, working with a new regulatory regime, hiring and training competent personnel, building adequate systems, and finding qualified agents to represent the Company. The Company does not expect to enter into any new states during 2014.

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 consolidated financial statements and notes thereto, and all other items contained within this Annual Report on Form 10-K.

2013 Financial Performance Summary
The Company's net income for the year ended December 31, 2013 decreased to $112.1 million, or $2.04 per diluted share, from $116.9 million, or $2.13 per diluted share, for the same period in 2012. Approximately $125 million in pre-tax investment income was generated during 2013 on a portfolio of approximately $3.2 billion at fair value at December 31, 2013, compared to $132 million pre-tax investment income during 2012 on a portfolio of approximately $3.2 billion at fair value at December 31, 2012. Included in net income are net realized investment losses of $11.4 million and gains of $66.4 million in 2013 and 2012, respectively.

During 2013, the Company continued its marketing efforts to enhance name recognition and lead generation. The Company believes that its marketing efforts, combined with its ability to maintain relatively low prices and a strong reputation, make the Company very competitive in California and in other states.

The Company believes its thorough underwriting process gives it an advantage over competitors. The Company's agent relationships and underwriting and claims processes are its most important competitive advantages.

The Company's operating results and growth have allowed it to consistently generate positive cash flow from operations, which was approximately $210 million and $148 million in 2013 and 2012, respectively. Cash flow from operations has been used to pay shareholder dividends and help support growth.

Economic and Industry Wide Factors
Regulatory Uncertainty-The insurance industry is subject to strict state regulation and oversight and is governed by the laws of each state in which each insurance company operates. State regulators generally have substantial power and authority over insurance companies including, in some states, approving rate changes and rating factors, and establishing minimum capital and surplus requirements. In many states, insurance commissioners may emphasize different agendas or interpret existing regulations differently than previous commissioners. There is no certainty that current or future regulations and the interpretation of those regulations by insurance commissioners and the courts will not have an adverse impact on the Company.

Cost Uncertainty-Because insurance companies pay claims after premiums are collected, the ultimate cost of an insurance policy is not known until well after the policy revenues are earned. Consequently, significant assumptions are made when establishing insurance rates and loss reserves. While insurance companies use sophisticated models and experienced actuaries to assist in setting rates and establishing loss reserves, there can be no assurance that current rates or current reserve estimates will be adequate. Furthermore, there can be no assurance that insurance regulators will approve rate increases when the Company's actuarial analysis indicate that they are needed.

Economic Conditions-Many businesses are still experiencing a slow recovery from the severe economic recession. Though optimism is growing, economists and analysts expect that the global recovery will remain modest and uneven in 2014 due in large part to continuing political disagreements in Washington that may cause businesses and consumers


to limit spending. Further, softness in the European banking sector and the Japanese fiscal condition continue to lead to weaker global economic growth, heightened financial vulnerabilities and some negative rating actions. The Company is unable to predict the duration and severity of current global economic conditions and their impact on the United States, and California, where the majority of the Company's business is produced. If economic conditions do not show improvement, there could be an adverse impact on the Company's financial condition, results of operations, and liquidity.
Inflation-The largest cost component for automobile insurers is losses, which include medical costs, replacement automobile parts, and labor costs. There can be significant variation in the overall increases in medical cost inflation, and it is often a year or more after the respective fiscal period ends before sufficient claims have closed for the inflation rate to be known with a reasonable degree of certainty. Therefore, it can be difficult to establish reserves and set premium rates, particularly when actual inflation rates may be higher or lower than anticipated.

Loss Frequency-Another component of overall loss costs is loss frequency, which is the number of claims per risk insured. There has been a long-term trend of declining loss frequency in the personal automobile insurance industry. However, in recent years, the trend has shown increasing loss frequency, and the Company may not be able to accurately predict the trend of loss frequency in the future.

Underwriting Cycle and Competition-The property and casualty insurance industry is highly cyclical, with alternating hard and soft market conditions. The Company has historically seen significant premium growth during hard markets. The Company believes that the market is mixed with carriers both raising and decreasing rates depending on individual state profitability and the carriers' growth appetite.

Technology
Agency systems
In 2013, the Company continued to invest in its web-based agency systems by adding new capabilities and enhanced features such as improved motor vehicle and accident matching and reconciliation. Many agents use comparative raters to evaluate products and prices from different insurance carriers, and the Company has completed integrations with the most popular raters for the private passenger automobile and homeowner lines of business.
A new commission system is anticipated to be released in 2014 that will enhance the efficiency and flexibility of the current commission calculation and payment process.

Customer systems

Customer web capability was expanded in 2013 and allows customers in California, Georgia, and Nevada to bind and pay for new private passenger automobile policies on-line.

Operations systems

Guidewire, a commercially available software solution, was launched in 2010 to replace legacy platforms. As of December 31, 2013, Guidewire for homeowners has been deployed in nine of the Company's states, for commercial automobile in ten states including California, and for personal automobile in five states. In the next two years, the Company plans to implement Guidewire for California homeowners and private passenger automobile claims processing. B. Regulatory and Legal Matters
The process for implementing rate changes varies by state. Insurance rates in California, Georgia, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Nevada require prior approval from the state DOI while insurance rates in Illinois, Texas, Virginia, Arizona, and Michigan must only be filed with the state DOI before they are implemented. Oklahoma and Florida have a modified version of prior approval laws. In all states, the insurance code provides that rates must not be excessive, inadequate, or unfairly discriminatory. For the Company's two largest lines of business, private passenger automobile and homeowners, the Company filed rate increases in thirteen states during 2013.

The California DOI uses rating factor regulations requiring automobile insurance rates to be determined in decreasing order of importance by (1) driving safety record, (2) miles driven per year, (3) years of driving experience, and
(4) other factors as determined by the California DOI to have a substantial relationship to the risk of loss and adopted by regulation.

The Company filed for a 3.9% rate increase for its California homeowners line of business in May 2009. After a rate hearing by an ALJ, the Company was ordered by the California Insurance Commissioner to reduce rates by 5.5%. The rate reduction was implemented during the second quarter of 2013. The Company subsequently filed for a rate increase that contained more recent


data, and an 8.26% rate increase was approved by the California Insurance Commissioner. The rate increase went into effect in January 2014. In addition, the Company is challenging some of the issues in Superior Court that were raised by the ALJ in the rate hearing.

In January 2013, the California DOI approved an auto body repair regulation intended to strengthen consumer protection. This regulation requires insurers to settle automobile insurance claims using repair standards described by the regulation and not by the insurers' own standards. The new ruling became effective in March 2013. While the impact of the new ruling was minimal during 2013, it may increase the cost of parts for auto repairs in the future.

In April 2010, the California DOI issued a Notice of Non-Compliance ("2010 NNC") to MIC, MCC, and 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 on which the Company allegedly permitted an agent to charge a broker fee and a penalty for each policy on which the Company allegedly used a misleading advertisement and to suspend certificates of authority for a period of one year. In January 2012, the ALJ bifurcated the 2004 NNC between (a) the California DOI's order to show cause, in which the California DOI asserts the false advertising allegations and accusation, and (b) the California DOI's notice of noncompliance, in which the California DOI asserts the unlawful rate allegations. In February 2012, the ALJ submitted a proposed decision dismissing the California DOI's 2004 NNC. In March 2012, the California Insurance Commissioner rejected the ALJ's proposed decision. The Company challenged the rejection in Superior Court in April 2012. Following a hearing, the Superior Court sustained the California Insurance Commissioner's demurrer without leave to amend because it found the Company must first exhaust its administrative remedies. In January 2013, the Superior Court's decision was subsequently affirmed on appeal. In January 2013, the ALJ heard various pending motions that had been filed by the Company in June 2011. The ALJ granted certain portions of the California DOI's motion for collateral estoppel to prevent the Company from litigating certain findings of fact reached in a prior litigation action and denied the Company's motion for governmental estoppel and laches, without prejudice, on the ground that a resolution of the motion requires specific factual findings in the context of the evidentiary hearing. The ALJ held an evidentiary hearing on the noncompliance portion of the 2004 NNC during April 2013. A mediation was held in September 2013, but the parties were unable to reach a settlement of the matter. Post-hearing briefs have been filed by the Company, the California DOI, and a consumer group. Until the evidentiary record is closed, there is no set timetable for a decision by the ALJ or, thereafter, a decision by the California Insurance Commissioner.

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, results of operations, or cash flow. 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 "Critical Accounting Policies and Estimates" and Note 1 of Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements.

The Company also establishes reserves for non-insurance claims related lawsuits, regulatory actions, and other contingencies when the Company believes a loss is probable and is able to estimate its potential exposure. 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 Note 16 of Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements-Commitments and Contingencies-Litigation.
C. 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 calculates a loss reserve point estimate rather than a range. There is inherent uncertainty with estimates and this is particularly true with estimates for loss reserves. This uncertainty comes from many factors which may include changes in claims reporting and settlement patterns, changes in the regulatory or legal environment, uncertainty over inflation rates, and uncertainty for unknown items. The Company does not make specific provisions for these uncertainties, rather it considers them in establishing its reserve by looking at historical patterns and trends and projecting these out to current reserves. The underlying factors and assumptions that serve as the basis for preparing the reserve estimate include paid and incurred loss development factors, expected average costs per claim, inflation trends, expected loss ratios, industry data, and other relevant information.

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 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.
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.

The Company analyzes catastrophe losses separately from non-catastrophe losses. For catastrophe losses, the Company determines claim counts based on claims reported and development expectations from previous catastrophes and applies an average expected loss per claim based on reserves established by adjusters and average losses on previous similar catastrophes.


There are many factors that can cause variability between the ultimate expected loss and the actual developed loss. While there are certainly other factors, the Company believes that the following three items tend to create the most variability between expected losses and actual losses.
(1) Inflation For the Company's California automobile lines of business, total reserves are comprised of the following:
BI reserves-approximately 60% of total reserves

Material damage (MD) reserves, including collision and comprehensive . . .

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