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Merger partners BB&T, SunTrust take opposite approaches to insurance business

2018 US Property Casualty Insurance Market Report

Street Talk Podcast

Street Talk Episode 23 - As More Banks Reach for Yield, Advisers Urge Caution

Fintech

Fintech Funding Flows To Insurtech In February

Credit Analysis

Beyond Amazon, Alibaba Leads Disruptive Innovation In Race To $1 Trillion Valuation


Merger partners BB&T, SunTrust take opposite approaches to insurance business

The insurance business of BB&T Corp., which ranked as the No. 5 U.S. broker and the largest bank-owned broker in 2017, will not receive much of an immediate lift from a proposed merger of equals with SunTrust Banks Inc.

That said, SunTrust CFO Allison Dukes listed insurance as an area of potential revenue opportunity as it "brings a new highly relevant capability" to her institution's client base.

Branch Banking and Trust Co. generated $1.81 billion in noninterest income from insurance commissions and fees in 2018, according to call report data, by far the highest among depository institutions not owned by an entity primarily engaged in insurance. SunTrust Bank tallied an immaterial sum during the year, though insurance at several times in the past represented a somewhat larger portion of its overall business. Its holding company generated less than $9.5 million through the first nine months of 2018, according to bank regulatory filings.

Insurance brokerage will be the largest contributor to the combined fee income of BB&T and SunTrust, the banks said, as the segment will be responsible for 23% of the pro forma total of approximately $8 billion. Insurance will contribute less than 10% of total revenues, Dukes said during a conference call to discuss the deal, down from about 20% for BB&T on a stand-alone basis.

Global insurance specialists Marsh & McLennan Cos. Inc., Aon PLC, Willis Towers Watson PLC and Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. topped Business Insurance's most recent ranking of U.S. brokerage revenue. Those rankings, which placed BB&T and Brown & Brown Inc. fifth and sixth, respectively, did not account for significant acquisitions by each of those entities: BB&T's July 2018 purchase of Regions Insurance Group Inc. from Regions Financial Corp. and Brown & Brown's November 2018 addition of Hays Cos. Each of the two targets produced more than $100 million in 2017 U.S. brokerage revenue, according to the Business Insurance survey.

Through a combination of organic and inorganic growth, BB&T has increased its insurance revenues and market presence considerably over the past 15 years. Its noninterest income from insurance commissions and fees totaled less than $400 million in 2003. SunTrust's noninterest income from insurance commissions and fees peaked in 2008 at $75.6 million, much of which pertained to insurance and reinsurance underwriting at a time when the bank engaged in mortgage reinsurance through a captive insurance subsidiary. It sold an inactive insurance subsidiary in 2009.

The contrasting emphasis on insurance distribution among the merger partners might best be viewed in the fate of Hilton Head Island, S.C., agency Carswell Insurance Services.

SunTrust acquired the agency, which provided commercial and personal property and casualty coverage and group benefits offerings, through a broader June 2003 purchase of Lighthouse Financial Services for $130 million. Less than two years after SunTrust announced the completion of its integration of Lighthouse, including what was then known as Carswell-Lighthouse Insurance, it sold its 100% interest in the agency to management for $10.9 million. In June 2007, BB&T announced an agreement to buy Carswell.

BB&T's long-term commitment to growing its insurance franchise contrasts with many of its banking peers, a number of which have exited insurance brokerage or agency networks in recent years. In the most prominent retreat, Wells Fargo & Co. sold its commercial insurance distribution business to private equity-backed USI Insurance Services LLC in 2017. Regions and KeyCorp have more recently pulled out of the insurance brokerage space.

Shifting strategic priorities, cultural challenges between banking and insurance, and intense competition for inorganic growth rank among the factors behind the exodus. Banks or thrifts were the sellers in 12 transactions involving insurance agencies and/or their assets in 2018. Banks and thrifts accounted for only 19 insurance agency acquisitions in 2018, marking at least a 20-year low at a time when overall M&A in that sector was at or near an all-time high.

BB&T, however, views insurance as a way to differentiate its business and provide a diversified revenue stream that is not sensitive to interest rate movements or the dynamics of the credit cycle.


Insurance
2018 US Property Casualty Insurance Market Report

Highlights

S&P Global Market Intelligence’s 2018 US Property & Casualty Insurance Market Report offers a five-year outlook for the P&C sector, which should return to underwriting profitability for the first time since 2015.

Oct. 26 2018 — The federal tax reform President Donald Trump signed into law in December 2017 should help provide for an extended period of P&C industry profitability in 2018 and beyond as companies benefit from the lower corporate tax rate, but the impact is not limited to after-tax profitability. Actions by several prominent European-headquartered insurers to change the way certain of their U.S. business is reinsured materially impacted premium growth rates in the first quarter of 2018 and are likely to affect full-year results.

1 quarter does not a trend make

Historically strong results for the State Farm group in the first quarter
helped drive favorable comparisons in several key measures of underwriting profitability. To the extent the improvement continues for State Farm — the industry’s largest group based on direct premiums written — it could provide an additional tailwind for 2018 and beyond.

While there is a risk of recency bias in reading too much into a single quarter’s worth of data, the industry was already positioned for improved underwriting results in 2018. The second half of 2017 saw elevated catastrophe losses as the United States was hit by three landfall-making hurricanes and an unusual spate of fourth-quarter wildfires in California. Projected results for 2018 and subsequent years, all of which show combined ratios of less than 2017’s total of 103.5%, assume a normal catastrophe load.

Auto repairs in progress

Competition will remain intense in certain non-auto business lines given ample reinsurance capacity, high levels of industry capitalization and a macroeconomic environment that remains characterized by relatively slow growth in gross domestic product. Though modestly higher business volume driven by that economic expansion will help offset downward pressure on premiums, the industry will be challenged to achieve profitable top-line growth.

Trends in litigation will increasingly weigh on underwriting results in several business lines, including professional lines and the Florida homeowners business. They also could lead to greater demand for coverage, particularly for new and emerging risks.

The macro view

A rising federal funds rate and 10-year Treasury yields that have reached seven-year highs bode well for an industry that has long been suffering from low interest rates. And the relief cannot come quickly enough after the industry’s net yield on invested assets slipped to a new low of only 3.03% in 2017. Though projected results provide for increasing yields from that floor, the improvement will still take place gradually and is unlikely in and of itself to materially impact how companies are underwriting business

S&P Global Market Intelligence client? Click here to login and read the full 2018 US Property & Casualty Insurance Market Report.

The projections reflect various assumptions regarding premiums, losses and expenses. They are a product of a sum-of-the-parts analysis of individual business lines that is informed by third-party macroeconomic forecasts, historical trends and recent market observations that include first-quarter 2017 statutory results and anecdotal commentary about market conditions. Projected results are displayed on a total-filed basis and are not intended for application to individual states, regions or companies. S&P Global Market Intelligence reserves the right to update the projections at any time for any reason.

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U.S. Insurance Market Report – Property & Casualty (June 2017)

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Listen: Street Talk Episode 23 - As More Banks Reach for Yield, Advisers Urge Caution

More banks are reaching further out the yield curve in their loan portfolios to meet customer demands but, increasingly, advisers believe institutions need to proceed with caution. In the episode, experts from PIMCO, Sandler O’Neill, Chatham Financial and PrecisionLender discuss rate risk and how banks focused on funding will ultimately prove the winners.

Street Talk is a podcast hosted by S&P Global Market Intelligence.

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Fintech
Fintech Funding Flows To Insurtech In February

Mar. 21 2018 — Insurance technology companies took center stage in the month of February, attracting the most investor dollars of the various financial technology subsectors that S&P Global Market Intelligence tracks. Overall funding in the financial technology sector declined about 10% from the prior month, however, based on the disclosed value of deals involving private U.S.-based companies that closed in each period.

Two health-insurance-focused startups were key drivers of the $216 million that flowed into insurtech. These were CollectiveHealth and Bind Benefits, which closed on $110 million and $60 million funding rounds, respectively. Both provide tech solutions to companies that self-insure (i.e. provide health coverage for their employees with their own money rather than using an outside insurance company.)

This was a departure from last month, when investment and capital markets technology was the most well-funded, bolstered by capital raises from several robo-advisors, including Wealthfront and Acorns. Meanwhile, insurance technology companies only closed on $71.3 million worth of transactions during the month.

Already a client? Access more data and insights from the full report here.

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Credit Analysis
Beyond Amazon, Alibaba Leads Disruptive Innovation In Race To $1 Trillion Valuation

Mar. 20 2018 — The race to become the first trillion dollar company is heating up, with everyone paying close attention to the tech mega-caps — Alibaba Group Holdings Ltd. (NYSE: BABA) and Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN).

Despite a lack of consensus over who will take the crown, one thing is evident: no two companies in the race are as neck and neck and as similar in business strategy and operations as Amazon and Alibaba. Both champion the e-commerce landscape in their specific countries – Amazon in the U.S. and Alibaba in China - and both have made their forays into new industries such as food and healthcare.

Wall Street is following these companies closely, with Alibaba slightly in the lead in terms of analyst recommendations. As of April 2, 2018, the Chinese e-commerce behemoth has received 37 buy ratings and just two hold, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence data. The average analyst price target of $226.44 suggests upside potential of roughly 23%. Amazon, in contrast, has received 31 buy ratings and two hold. The average analyst price target of $1,709.05 suggests upside potential of roughly 18%.

To keep a tally of the race, we used the RatingsDirect® Monitor, a data visualization portfolio monitoring tool that provides risk/return insights and helps track and analyze market movements for publicly-traded companies that are rated by S&P Global Ratings.

Figure 1: Tech Mega-Caps: S&P Issuer Credit Rating (FCLT) vs. 3M Stock Price Volatility (%)

Tech mega-caps: S&P Issuer Credit Rating (FCLT) vs. 3M Stock Price Volatility (%)

For illustrative purposes only.

At a market cap of $471.6 billion, Alibaba is not too far off from catching up to Amazon’s $700.7 billion cap. Alibaba stock’s price has observed a three-month price volatility of 40.1%, the largest among the tech titans and far surpassing Amazon’s 30.8%.

Although the higher volatility and lower S&P Global Ratings’ long-term credit rating present more risks for investors, Alibaba’s higher return on assets and lower P/E and leverage ratio suggest more opportunities for the Chinese e-commerce behemoth to grow and reach the $1 trillion valuation first.

Comparing disruptive levels of innovation

To compare the disruptive level of innovation in the various sectors that Amazon and Alibaba have entered, we selected comparable events between the two conglomerates and examined industry-level probability of default (PD) changes of the PD Market Signal Model, a structural model that calculates the likelihood of a company defaulting on its debt or entering bankruptcy protection over a one-to-five year horizon.

The war for groceries

Both Amazon and Alibaba have been stepping up their battle in the grocery business. Just last year, Amazon’s announcement to purchase Whole Foods Market Inc. for $13.7 billion shocked investors, with shares of some of U.S. food’s largest players – Kroger Co. Supervalu Inc., Costco Wholesale Corp., Target Corp., and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. – dipping on the news. The market perceived credit risk of the U.S. food retail industry also escalated. One week following the announcement, the U.S. food retail PD jumped from 3.73% on June 15, 2017 to 4.85% on June 23, 2017, or about a 30% increase in the industry’s probability of default.

Figure 2: U.S. Food Retail Median Market Signal Probability of Default: June 15, 2017 – June 23, 2017 (%)

U.S. food retail median Market Signal Probability of Default: June 15, 2017 – June 23, 2017 (%)

Alibaba also aggressively expanded its food footprint in 2017 with its rollout of new supermarkets under the Hema Xiansheng brand and its $2.9 billion investment in China’s largest hypermarket operator Sun Art Retail Group. Just this year, reports that Alibaba held early development talks with Kroger Co. left the Chinese food industry shaking. One week following reports of the discussions by Reuters and New York Post, China’s food retail PD increased 109.10% from 3.05% on January 23, 2018 to 6.39% on January 31, 2018. [i] [ii]

Figure 3: China Food Retail Median Market Signal Probability of Default: January 23, 2018 – January 31, 2018 (%)

China food retail median Market Signal Probability of Default: January 23, 2018 – January 31, 2018 (%)

The battle for pharma

Pharmaceuticals have been another potential battleground for the e-commerce giants.

According to an October 5, 2017 note published by Leerink Partners managing director Dr. Ana Gupte, Amazon is “hiring relevant talent and are in active discussions with mid-market PBMs [pharmacy benefit managers] and possibly even larger players such as Prime Therapeutics.” Following publication of the note, the U.S. drug retail PD escalated 22.55% from 16.16% on October 4, 2017 to 19.81% on October 12, 2017.

Figure 4: U.S. Drug Retail Median Market Signal Probability of Default: October 4, 2017 – October 12, 2017 (%)

U.S. drug retail median Market Signal Probability of Default: October 4, 2017 – October 12, 2017 (%)

Similarly, China’s drug retail PD jumped 90.67% from 1.55% on February 1, 2018 to 2.96% on February 9, 2018, following Alibaba’s February 2, 2018 announcement to partner with European pharma giant AstraZeneca PLC.

Figure 5: China Drug Retail Median Market Signal Probability of Default: February 1, 2018 – February 9, 2018 (%)

China drug retail median Market Signal Probability of Default: February 1, 2018 – February 9, 2018 (%)

The risks of innovation

In summary, our PD Market Signal model shows that Alibaba disrupts the short-term market perceived credit quality of firms more than Amazon does. The Chinese e-commerce behemoth is viewed by many investors as a proxy for China's consumer economy and growing middle class, whereas Amazon is not, and PD movements are reflective of this. As illustrated by our RatingsDirect® Monitor, Alibaba has a much lower leverage compared to Amazon, with a last-twelve-months Debt/EBITDA ratio of 1.4, compared to Amazon’s 2.9. Alibaba also has higher growth potential from the perspective of ROA and P/E. Alibaba’s ROA stands at 7.4%, compared to Amazon’s 2.4%. Further, Alibaba’s lower P/E ratio of 46.3, compared to Amazon’s 235.3, suggests that the Chinese firm may be undervalued.

Figure 6: Tech Mega-Caps: ROA (%) vs. Debt/EBITDA (x)

Tech mega-caps: ROA (%) vs. Debt/EBITDA (x)

For illustrative purposes only.

Figure 7: Tech Mega-Caps: ROA (%) vs. P/E Ratio (x)

Tech mega-caps: ROA (%) vs. P/E Ratio (x)

For illustrative purposes only.

Whether Alibaba will claim the $1 trillion title before Amazon, however, remains to be seen. A fast growing company, Alibaba faces significant challenges from China’s ever-changing business environment, including potential regulatory, litigation, and international expansion risks, as outlined in roughly 45 pages of the firm’s most recent annual report.

Despite the inherent risks, what sets Alibaba apart is its domination of China’s online marketplace, which is the single-largest in the world. Founder Jack Ma has also been faster than Bezos to expand his business lines. The use of Alipay, one of the world’s largest mobile payment platforms, and the firm’s roughly $350 million investment in Chinese electric-vehicle maker Foxconn Technology Group are just a few examples of the firm’s growing economies of scale.

[i] Alibaba, U.S. grocer Kroger had early business development talks: source. (n.d.). Retrieved March 01, 2018, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-kroger-alibaba/alibaba-u-s-grocer-kroger-had-early-business-development-talks-source-idUSKBN1FE0EF

[ii] To battle Amazon, Kroger eyes Alibaba alliance. (n.d.). Retrieved March 01, 2018, from https://nypost.com/2018/01/24/krogers-answer-to-amazon-go-alibaba/

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