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QBE tackles volatility in search of further growth

QBE enjoyed a “good start to the year” but is looking to build even greater consistency and resilience in its business, according to group CEO Andrew Horton.

“Our efforts over the near term will continue to focus on reducing volatility, which we expect will further support consistent outcomes for our customers, shareholders and people,” he told the annual general meeting last week.

“While I am pleased with the progress we are making, I believe we can continue to improve our underwriting performance, and this remains a priority.” 

The insurer says premium rates continued to rise in the first quarter, strong investment returns were achieved and the company is on track to meet financial guidance.

“Markets remain supportive, with continued momentum in gross written premium, while underwriting performance is tracking to plan,” Mr Horton said.

QBE expects constant currency group GWP growth in the mid single digits this calendar year and a combined operating ratio of about 93.5%. 

GWP grew 2% in the first quarter, while group-wide renewal rate increases of 7.3% were in line with expectations and reflected reduced rate gains across certain property and reinsurance lines compared with the previous corresponding period. 

Excluding rate increases, premium fell 2% in constant currency terms due to lower crop premium and property portfolio exits in North America and Australia.  

In the Australia Pacific division, first-quarter premium rate increases were 11%, with a retention of 76%. Rates increased 10.9% in North America and 5.1% in international. 

Net catastrophe claim costs in the four months to April were about $US300 million ($455 million). The insurer’s first-half allowance is $US609 million ($923 million). 

First-quarter investment income was just over $US400 million ($606 million), underscored by supportive interest rates and favourable returns in the risk asset portfolio.