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Mercury General's stock plummets as Calif. regulator files lawsuit


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Mercury General's stock plummets as Calif. regulator files lawsuit

Mercury General Corp. shares fell sharply this week as the California Department of Insurance announced it would pursue legal action against the insurer, alleging that it had committed multiple violations of state consumer protection laws.

Among the regulator's largest complaints was an allegation that Mercury steered good drivers toward its highest-priced policies rather than the lowest-priced policies for which they qualified. The regulator also claimed that Mercury overcharged businesses and homeowners in other lines of insurance using illegal practices that produced "unfairly discriminatory rates."

A spokesperson told S&P Global Market Intelligence that the company "strongly disagrees with the allegations" and has been working with the regulator to address its concerns.

Mercury reported second-quarter earnings this week that reflected a net loss of $210.7 million, or a loss of $3.80 per share, a steep decline from net income of $109.2 million, or $1.97 a share, in the year-ago period.

The insurer's stock ended the week among the biggest losers as it dropped 22.91%.

Meanwhile, the S&P 500 Insurance Index dipped 0.33% for the week ending Aug. 5 to 536.34, while the S&P 500 ticked up 0.36% to 4,145.19.

Not so Golden State

Executives from several other major property and casualty insurers this week lamented market conditions in California, where they say they are unable to obtain necessary rate increases.

The Progressive Corp. CEO Tricia Griffith during an earnings call said the insurer is not able to get adequate rates in California and called the state's moratorium on auto rate increases unhelpful for consumers. A spokesperson for Progressive told S&P Global Market Intelligence that Progressive has "no desire to grow market share with their auto business in California" until the insurer can obtain the rate increases it needs.

Progressive's shares rose 2.80% for the week.

Glenn Shapiro, The Allstate Corp.'s president of property-liability, echoed Griffith's comments in Allstate's call this week. Allstate has not been able to get any kind of auto increases in California, a state that accounts for roughly 12% of the company's auto premiums.

In a note, Wells Fargo analyst Elyse Greenspan said Allstate's shares are likely to stay under pressure as its rates remain below loss trends.

Allstate's stock finished essentially flat on the week.

Adding to the disruption in the Golden State, Berkshire Hathaway Inc.'s GEICO Corp. announced this week it is closing all 38 of its agent offices in California, though it will continue to write policies there.

COVID impacts lessen for life insurers

Several life companies reported second-quarter results that reflected a sharp drop in COVID-related mortality.

"For life insurers that are primarily focused on group insurance, it was a particularly positive quarter with the combination of rising rates, moderating COVID costs and a really favorable sales outlook," CreditSights analyst Josh Esterov said in an interview.

Sun Life Financial Inc. executives noted that the insurer saw COVID-related mortality drop 90% in the second quarter compared to the first quarter. Mortality experience in the insurer's group benefits line was also improved by lower pandemic-related claims.

Sun Life Financial shares edged up 0.56%.

Meanwhile, Reinsurance Group of America Inc.'s second-quarter COVID-19 claims were at the lowest level seen since the start of the pandemic, according to Global Chief Risk Officer Jonathan Porter. In the reinsurer's U.S. individual mortality results non-COVID experience was favorable due to a lower frequency of claims and lower average claim size.

RGA's shares jumped 6.60% for the week.