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Personal Auto Line Propels Strong 1QP&C Insurance Results

Strong improvements in personal auto insurance results helped drive the U.S. property and casualty insurance industry to its second-highest net underwriting gain in any quarter since at least 2000, according to an S&P Global Market Intelligence analysis.

Just 12 months from its worst-on-record start to a calendar year – with a combined ratio of 102.2 – the industry generated a ratio of approximately 94.0. Combined ratio is a measure of underwriting profitability in which a ratio under 100 indicates a profit and one above 100 represents a loss.

While quarterly statutory data is insufficient to calculate combined ratios at the line-of-business level, S&P previously estimated that a direct incurred loss ratio of approximately 71.3 percent in the personal auto sector would have produced break-even underwriting results in the first quarter.

“Applying the same methodology to the first-quarter result of 66.7% yields an estimated combined ratio of 95.6,” S&P said. The industry’s full-year 2023 private auto combined ratio was 104.9.

On a consolidated basis across business lines, incurred losses increased only modestly, while net premiums earned continued to rise rapidly. This reflects the combination of continued top-line strength in many commercial lines of business and what S&P called “the hardest private auto pricing environment in 47 years.”

The industry also benefited from relatively mild catastrophe activity compared with the comparable prior-year period.

While these strong first-quarter results are noteworthy, it will take time to know whether they represent the start of a trend. Multiple severe convective storm events already have occurred in the second quarter, and the 2024 Atlantic hurricane season is forecast to be “extremely active.”

Personal auto’s recent improvements follow 2022 results that were among the worst in recent years.  The number of drivers on the road has returned to pre-pandemic levels, and the risky driving behavior that led to high losses during the pandemic has not improved. More accidents with severe injuries and fatalities have driven up claims and losses in terms of both vehicle damage and liability, attracting greater attorney involvement and legal system abuse.

Compounding these loss drivers has been historically high inflation, which puts upward pressure on the material and labor costs for both the auto and property lines.

Favorable first-quarter results are good news, but it’s important for policyholders and policymakers to remember that the current hard market wasn’t created overnight. It will take time for insurers’ performance and drivers’ rates to stabilize.