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WRB > SEC Filings for WRB > Form 10-Q on 12-May-2014All Recent SEC Filings

Show all filings for BERKLEY W R CORP

Form 10-Q for BERKLEY W R CORP


12-May-2014

Quarterly Report


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

Overview
W. R. Berkley Corporation is an insurance holding company that is among the largest commercial lines writers in the United States and operates in three business segments: Insurance-Domestic, Insurance-International and Reinsurance-Global. Our decentralized structure provides us with the flexibility to respond quickly and efficiently to local or specific market conditions and to pursue specialty business niches. It also allows us to be closer to our customers in order to better understand their individual needs and risk characteristics. While providing our business units with certain operating autonomy, our structure allows us to capitalize on the benefits of economies of scale through centralized capital, investment, reinsurance and enterprise risk management, and actuarial, financial and corporate legal staff support. The Company's primary sources of revenues and earnings are its insurance operations and its investments.
An important part of our strategy is to form new operating units to capitalize on various business opportunities. Since 2006, the Company formed 24 new operating units that are focused on important parts of the economy in the U.S., including healthcare, energy and agriculture, and on growing international markets, including Scandinavia, Australia, the Asia-Pacific region and South America.
The profitability of the Company's insurance business is affected primarily by the adequacy of premium rates. The ultimate adequacy of premium rates is not known with certainty at the time an insurance policy is issued because premiums are determined before claims are reported. The ultimate adequacy of premium rates is affected mainly by the severity and frequency of claims, which are influenced by many factors, including natural and other disasters, regulatory measures and court decisions that define and change the extent of coverage and the effects of economic inflation on the amount of compensation for injuries or losses. General insurance prices are also influenced by available insurance capacity, i.e., the level of statutory capital and surplus employed in the industry, and the industry's willingness to deploy that capital. From 2005 through 2010, the property casualty insurance market was very competitive and insurance rates decreased across most business lines. Although prices have generally increased since the beginning of 2011, the current market is increasingly competitive and price levels for certain lines of business remain below the prices required for the Company to achieve its long-term return objectives. Part of the Company's strategy is to selectively reduce its business in areas where it believes returns are not adequate. Price changes are reflected in the Company's results over time as premiums are earned.
The Company's profitability is also affected by its investment income and investment gains. The Company's invested assets, which are derived from its own capital and cash flow from its insurance business, are invested principally in fixed maturity securities. The return on fixed maturity securities is affected primarily by general interest rates, as well as the credit quality and duration of the securities. Returns available on fixed maturity investments are at historically low levels. The Company's investment income has been negatively impacted by the low fixed maturity investment returns, and will be further impacted if investment returns remain at this level.
The Company also invests in equity securities, merger arbitrage, private equity investments, investment funds, loans receivable and real estate. The Company's investments in investment funds have experienced, and the Company expects to continue to experience, greater fluctuations in investment income.

Critical Accounting Estimates
The following presents a discussion of accounting policies and estimates relating to reserves for losses and loss expenses, assumed premiums and other-than-temporary impairments of investments. Management believes these policies and estimates are the most critical to its operations and require the most difficult, subjective and complex judgments.
Reserves for Losses and Loss Expenses. To recognize liabilities for unpaid losses, either known or unknown, insurers establish reserves, which is a balance sheet account representing estimates of future amounts needed to pay claims and related expenses with respect to insured events which have occurred. Estimates and assumptions relating to reserves for losses and loss expenses are based on complex and subjective judgments, often including the interplay of specific uncertainties with related accounting and actuarial measurements. Such estimates are also susceptible to change as significant periods of time may elapse between the occurrence of an insured loss, the report of the loss to the insurer, the ultimate determination of the cost of the loss and the insurer's payment of that loss.
In general, when a claim is reported, claims personnel establish a "case reserve" for the estimated amount of the ultimate payment based upon known information about the claim at that time. The estimate represents an informed judgment based on general reserving practices and reflects the experience and knowledge of the claims personnel regarding the nature and value of the specific type of claim. Reserves are also established on an aggregate basis to provide for losses incurred but


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not reported ("IBNR") to the insurer, potential inadequacy of case reserves and the estimated expenses of settling claims, including legal and other fees and general expenses of administrating the claims adjustment process. Reserves are established based upon the then current legal interpretation of coverage provided.
In examining reserve adequacy, several factors are considered in estimating the ultimate economic value of losses. These factors include, among other things, historical data, legal developments, changes in social attitudes and economic conditions, including the effects of inflation. The actuarial process relies on the basic assumption that past experience, adjusted judgmentally for the effects of current developments and anticipated trends, is an appropriate basis for predicting future outcomes. Reserve amounts are based on management's informed estimates and judgments using currently available data. As additional experience and other data become available and are reviewed, these estimates and judgments may be revised. This may result in reserve increases or decreases that would be reflected in our results in periods in which such estimates and assumptions are changed.
Reserves do not represent an exact calculation of liability. Rather, reserves represent an estimate of what management expects the ultimate settlement and claim administration will cost. While the methods for establishing reserves are well tested over time, some of the major assumptions about anticipated loss emergence patterns are subject to unanticipated fluctuation. These estimates, which generally involve actuarial projections, are based on management's assessment of facts and circumstances then known, as well as estimates of trends in claims severity and frequency, judicial theories of liability and other factors, including the actions of third parties which are beyond the Company's control. These variables are affected by external and internal events, such as inflation and economic volatility, judicial and litigation trends, reinsurance coverage, legislative changes and claim handling and reserving practices, which make it more difficult to accurately predict claim costs. The inherent uncertainties of estimating reserves are greater for certain types of liabilities where long periods of time elapse before a definitive determination of liability is made. Because setting reserves is inherently uncertain, the Company cannot provide assurance that its current reserves will prove adequate in light of subsequent events.
Loss reserves included in the Company's financial statements represent management's best estimates based upon an actuarially derived point estimate and other considerations. The Company uses a variety of actuarial techniques and methods to derive an actuarial point estimate for each operating unit. These methods include paid loss development, incurred loss development, paid and incurred Bornhuetter-Ferguson methods and frequency and severity methods. In circumstances where one actuarial method is considered more credible than the others, that method is used to set the point estimate. For example, the paid loss and incurred loss development methods rely on historical paid and incurred loss data. For new lines of business, where there is insufficient history of paid and incurred claims data, or in circumstances where there have been significant changes in claim practices, the paid and incurred loss development methods would be less credible than other actuarial methods. The actuarial point estimate may also be based on a judgmental weighting of estimates produced from each of the methods considered. Industry loss experience is used to supplement the Company's own data in selecting "tail factors" and in areas where the Company's own data is limited. The actuarial data is analyzed by line of business, coverage and accident or policy year, as appropriate, for each operating unit.
The establishment of the actuarially derived loss reserve point estimate also includes consideration of qualitative factors that may affect the ultimate losses. These qualitative considerations include, among others, the impact of re-underwriting initiatives, changes in the mix of business, changes in distribution sources and changes in policy terms and conditions. Examples of changes in terms and conditions that can have a significant impact on reserve levels are the use of aggregate policy limits, the expansion of coverage exclusions, whether or not defense costs are within policy limits, and changes in deductibles and attachment points.
The key assumptions used to arrive at the best estimate of loss reserves are the expected loss ratios, rate of loss cost inflation, and reported and paid loss emergence patterns. Expected loss ratios represent management's expectation of losses at the time the business is written, before any actual claims experience has emerged. This expectation is a significant determinant of the estimate of loss reserves for recently written business where there is little paid or incurred loss data to consider. Expected loss ratios are generally derived from historical loss ratios adjusted for the impact of rate changes, loss cost trends and known changes in the type of risks underwritten. Expected loss ratios are estimated for each key line of business within each operating unit. Expected loss cost inflation is particularly important for the long-tail lines, such as excess casualty, and claims with a high medical component, such as workers' compensation. Reported and paid loss emergence patterns are used to project current reported or paid loss amounts to their ultimate settlement value. Loss development factors are based on the historical emergence patterns of paid and incurred losses, and are derived from the Company's own experience and industry data. The paid loss emergence pattern is also significant to excess and assumed workers' compensation reserves because those reserves are discounted to their estimated present value based upon such estimated payout patterns. Management believes the estimates and assumptions it makes in the reserving process provide the best estimate of the ultimate cost of settling claims and related expenses with respect to insured events which have occurred; however, different assumptions and variables could lead to significantly different reserve estimates.


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Loss frequency and severity are measures of loss activity that are considered in determining the key assumptions described in our discussion of loss and loss expense reserves, including expected loss ratios, rate of loss cost inflation and reported and paid loss emergence patterns. Loss frequency is a measure of the number of claims per unit of insured exposure, and loss severity is a measure of the average size of claims. Factors affecting loss frequency include the effectiveness of loss controls and safety programs and changes in economic activity or weather patterns. Factors affecting loss severity include changes in policy limits, retentions, rate of inflation and judicial interpretations. Another factor affecting estimates of loss frequency and severity is the loss reporting lag, which is the period of time between the occurrence of a loss and the date the loss is reported to the Company. The length of the loss reporting lag affects our ability to accurately predict loss frequency (loss frequencies are more predictable for lines with short reporting lags) as well as the amount of reserves needed for incurred but not reported losses (less IBNR is required for lines with short reporting lags). As a result, loss reserves for lines with short reporting lags are likely to have less variation from initial loss estimates. For lines with short reporting lags, which include commercial automobile, primary workers' compensation, other liability (claims-made) and property business, the key assumption is the loss emergence pattern used to project ultimate loss estimates from known losses paid or reported to date. For lines of business with long reporting lags, which include other liability (occurrence), products liability, excess workers' compensation and liability reinsurance, the key assumption is the expected loss ratio since there is often little paid or incurred loss data to consider. Historically, the Company has experienced less variation from its initial loss estimates for lines of businesses with short reporting lags than for lines of business with long reporting lags.
The key assumptions used in calculating the most recent estimate of the loss reserves are reviewed each quarter and adjusted, to the extent necessary, to reflect historical changes, current trends and other factors observed. If the actual level of loss frequency and severity are higher or lower than expected, the ultimate losses will be different than management's estimate. The following table reflects the impact of changes (which could be favorable or unfavorable) in frequency and severity, relative to our assumptions, on our loss estimate for claims occurring in 2013:
(In thousands) Frequency (+/-)

Severity (+/-)    1%           5%          10%
1%             $ 64,750    $ 194,893    $ 357,572
5%              194,893      330,191      499,313
10%             357,572      499,313      676,488

Our net reserves for losses and loss expenses of approximately $9 billion as of March 31, 2014 relate to multiple accident years. Therefore, the impact of changes in frequency or severity for more than one accident year could be higher or lower than the amounts reflected above.
Approximately $1.5 billion, or 18%, of the Company's net loss reserves as of March 31, 2014 relate to the Reinsurance-Global segment. There is a higher degree of uncertainty and greater variability regarding estimates of assumed loss reserves because those estimates are based, in part, upon information received from ceding companies. If information received from ceding companies is not timely or correct, the Company's estimate of ultimate losses may not be accurate. Furthermore, due to delayed reporting of claim information by ceding companies, the claim settlement tail for assumed reinsurance is extended. Management considers the impact of delayed reporting in its selection of assumed loss development factors.
Information received from ceding companies is used to set initial expected loss ratios, to establish case reserves and to estimate reserves for incurred but not reported losses on assumed reinsurance business. This information, which is generally provided through reinsurance intermediaries, is gathered through the underwriting process and from periodic claim reports and other correspondence with ceding companies. The Company performs underwriting and claim audits of selected ceding companies to determine the accuracy and completeness of information provided to the Company. The information received from the ceding companies is supplemented by the Company's own loss development experience with similar lines of business as well as industry loss trends and loss development benchmarks.


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Following is a summary of the Company's reserves for losses and loss expenses by business segment as of March 31, 2014 and December 31, 2013:

(In thousands)                                March 31,      December 31,
                                                2014             2013
Insurance-Domestic                          $  6,565,821    $   6,493,401
Insurance-International                          692,615          592,709
Reinsurance-Global                             1,543,626        1,597,687
Net reserves for losses and loss expenses      8,802,062        8,683,797
Ceded reserves for losses and loss expenses    1,412,932        1,397,144
Gross reserves for losses and loss expenses $ 10,214,994    $  10,080,941

Following is a summary of the Company's net reserves for losses and loss expenses by major line of business as of March 31, 2014 and December 31, 2013:

                           Reported Case      Incurred But
(In thousands)                Reserves        Not Reported        Total
March 31, 2014
Other liability           $       958,973    $    1,829,604    $ 2,788,577
Workers' compensation (1)       1,478,428         1,222,333      2,700,761
Professional liability            329,280           357,953        687,233
Commercial automobile             262,917           198,560        461,477
Short-tail lines                  322,604           297,784        620,388
Total primary                   3,352,202         3,906,234      7,258,436
Reinsurance (1)                   646,897           896,729      1,543,626
Total                     $     3,999,099    $    4,802,963    $ 8,802,062
December 31, 2013
Other liability           $       937,168    $    1,852,779    $ 2,789,947
Workers' compensation (1)       1,462,849         1,206,244      2,669,093
Professional liability            320,579           344,232        664,811
Commercial automobile             267,701           205,404        473,105
Short-tail lines                  258,459           230,696        489,155
Total primary                   3,246,756         3,839,355      7,086,111
Reinsurance (1)                   679,108           918,578      1,597,686
Total                     $     3,925,864    $    4,757,933    $ 8,683,797

(1) Reserves for excess and assumed workers' compensation business are net of an aggregate net discount of $829 million and $837 million as of March 31, 2014 and December 31, 2013, respectively.

The Company evaluates reserves for losses and loss adjustment expenses on a quarterly basis. Changes in estimates of prior year losses are reported when such changes are made. The changes in prior year loss reserve estimates are generally the result of ongoing analysis of recent loss development trends. Original estimates are increased or decreased as additional information becomes known regarding individual claims and aggregate claim trends.


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Certain of the Company's insurance and reinsurance contracts are loss sensitive, whereby the Company collects more or less premiums based on the level of loss activity. For those contracts, changes in loss and loss adjustment expenses for prior years may be offset by additional or return premiums. Net prior year development for each of the three months ended March 31, 2014 and 2013 are as follows:

(In thousands)                           2014        2013
Decrease in prior year loss reserves   $ 19,035    $ 23,546
Increase in prior year earned premiums    5,865           -
Net favorable prior year development   $ 24,900    $ 23,546

Net favorable prior year development was approximately $25 million in the first quarter of 2014 compared with $24 million in the first quarter of 2013. In 2014, the domestic segment reported favorable reserve development of $28 million, which was partially offset by unfavorable development of $3 million for the international segment.
Favorable development in 2014 for the domestic segment was driven primarily by excess and surplus lines casualty business for accident years 2007 through 2013. Reported losses for these years continue to be below our initial expectations at the time the business was written, largely as a result of persistent improvement in claim frequency trends. As these accident years have matured, the weighting of actuarial methods has shifted from methods based on initial expected losses to methods based on actual reported losses. We believe the favorable claim frequency trends during this time period for excess and surplus casualty business is due to changes in the mix of business written and to the general slowdown in the economy.
The favorable development in 2013 related primarily to our excess and surplus lines casualty business and our regional companies as well as our excess medical malpractice excess professional liability lines of business. This favorable reserve development was partially offset by unfavorable development in our primary professional liability and aviation lines of business.
Reserve Discount - The Company discounts its liabilities for excess and assumed workers' compensation business because of the long period of time over which losses are paid. Discounting is intended to appropriately match losses and loss expenses to income earned on investment securities supporting the liabilities. The expected losses and loss expense payout pattern subject to discounting was derived from the Company's loss payout experience. For non-proportional business, reserves for losses and loss expenses have been discounted using risk-free discount rates determined by reference to the U.S. Treasury yield curve. For proportional business, reserves for losses and loss expenses have been discounted at the statutory rate of 2.2%. As of March 31, 2014, the aggregate blended discount rates ranged from 2.1% to 6.5%, with a weighted average discount rate of 4.1%. The aggregate net discount, after reflecting the effects of ceded reinsurance, was $829 million and $837 million as of March 31, 2014 and December 31, 2013, respectively.
Assumed Reinsurance Premiums. The Company estimates the amount of assumed reinsurance premiums that it will receive under treaty reinsurance agreements at the inception of the contracts. These premium estimates are revised as the actual amount of assumed premiums is reported to the Company by the ceding companies. As estimates of assumed premiums are made or revised, the related amount of earned premiums, commissions and incurred losses associated with those premiums are recorded. Estimated assumed premiums receivable were approximately $71 million and $69 million at March 31, 2014 and December 31, 2013, respectively. The assumed premium estimates are based upon terms set forth in reinsurance agreements, information received from ceding companies during the underwriting and negotiation of agreements, reports received from ceding companies and discussions and correspondence with reinsurance intermediaries. The Company also considers its own view of market conditions, economic trends and experience with similar lines of business. These premium estimates represent management's best estimate of the ultimate amount of premiums to be received under its assumed reinsurance agreements.
Other-Than-Temporary Impairments (OTTI) of Investments. The cost of securities is adjusted where appropriate to include a provision for decline in value which is considered to be other-than-temporary. An other-than-temporary decline is considered to occur in investments where there has been a sustained reduction in fair value and where the Company does not expect the fair value to recover prior to the time of sale or maturity. Since equity securities do not have a contractual cash flow or maturity, the Company considers whether the price of an equity security is expected to recover within a reasonable period of time. The Company classifies its fixed maturity securities and preferred stocks by credit rating, primarily based on ratings assigned by credit rating agencies. For purposes of classifying securities with different ratings, the Company uses the lower rating if two ratings were assigned and the middle rating if three ratings were assigned, unless the Company's own analysis indicates that the lower rating is more appropriate. Securities that are not rated by a rating agency are evaluated and classified by the Company on a case-by-case basis.


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Fixed Maturity Securities - For securities that we intend to sell or, more likely than not, would be required to sell, a decline in value below amortized cost is considered to be OTTI. The amount of OTTI is equal to the difference between amortized cost and fair value at the balance sheet date. For securities that we do not intend to sell or expect to be required to sell, a decline in value below amortized cost is considered to be an OTTI if we do not expect to recover the entire amortized cost basis of a security (i.e., the present value of cash flows expected to be collected is less than the amortized cost basis of the security).
The portion of the decline in value considered to be a credit loss (i.e., the difference between the present value of cash flows expected to be collected and the amortized cost basis of the security) is recognized in earnings. The portion of the decline in value not considered to be a credit loss (i.e., the difference in the present value of cash flows expected to be collected and the fair value of the security) is recognized in other comprehensive income.
Impairment assessments for structured securities, including mortgage-backed securities and asset-backed securities, collateralized debt obligations and corporate debt, are generally evaluated based on the performance of the underlying collateral under various economic and default scenarios that may involve subjective judgments and estimates by management. Modeling these securities involves various factors, such as projected default rates, the nature and realizable value of the collateral, if any, the ability of the issuer to make scheduled payments, historical performance and other relevant economic and performance factors. If an OTTI determination is made, a discounted cash flow analysis is used to ascertain the amount of the credit impairment.

The following table provides a summary of fixed maturity securities in an unrealized loss position as of March 31, 2014:

                                              Number of       Aggregate       Unrealized
($ in thousands)                              Securities     Fair Value          Loss
Unrealized loss less than 20% of amortized
cost                                                439     $ 2,856,633     $     74,615
Unrealized loss of 20% or greater of
amortized cost:
Twelve months and longer                              6           1,607              954
Total                                               445     $ 2,858,240     $     75,569

A summary of the Company's non-investment grade fixed maturity securities that were in an unrealized loss position at March 31, 2014 is presented in the table below.

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