Insurance stocks closely followed the broader markets in what ended up being another poor week for U.S. equities.
The S&P 500 declined 1.26% to 2,599.95, while the SNL U.S. Insurance index fell 0.69% to 1,006.08 for the week ending Dec. 14.
Progressive Corp. earlier in the week said it will end its annual variable dividend policy beginning in 2019 and replace the payouts with regular quarterly dividends on common shares. The board is targeting quarterly dividends of 10 cents per share and will also consider paying an additional dividend once a year.
Wells Fargo analyst Elyse Greenspan said Progressive is seeking to become a consistent dividend payer in the property and casualty space. But Buckingham Research analyst Amit Kumar in a research note pointed out that Progressive's last variable dividend, paid out in February, amounted to $655 million. The new dividend policy would equate to $233 million, plus any additional annual dividend, he estimated.
Progressive also released its November financial results, which were an improvement compared to a year ago. Net income attributable to the company came in at $242.4 million, or 41 cents per share, compared to $154.9 million, or 26 cents per share, in November 2017. The company's combined ratio edged up year over year to 91.3% from 90.9%.
Progressive's stock fell 2.24% for the week.
After being one of the few insurance companies to post gains last week, several reinsurance stocks lost ground this week.
Arch Capital Group Ltd. dropped 3.17%, AXIS Capital Holdings Ltd. declined 5.40%, Everest Re Group Ltd. fell 5.92% and RenaissanceRe Holdings Ltd. ticked down 3.99%. Reinsurance Group of America Inc. was an exception, eking out a gain of 0.63%.
Greenspan in an interview said she has a "largely conservative" view on the reinsurance market for 2019 and is not expecting a significant increase in rates at the Jan. 1, 2019, renewals. But she sees building momentum in rates getting better in the retrocessional market, which is basically reinsurance for reinsurance companies. Greenspan said there is talk of rates going up "perhaps 20% to 30%."
There is discussion of capital in the insurance-linked securities market being "locked up" due to losses from the recent California wildfires and rising losses from Hurricane Irma, according to Greenspan. She said that could have a "drag down" effect on the retrocessional market, which in turn would lead to knock-on negative effects on the reinsurance space later in 2019.
Horace Mann Educators Corp.'s shares rose after it agreed to acquire Dallas-based National Teachers Associates Life Insurance Co. for about $405 million, but the stock was down for the week overall, slipping 1.39%.
Shares of Health Insurance Innovations Inc. climbed about 19% on Dec. 13 after the company and subsidiary Health Plan Intermediaries Holdings LLC reached a settlement agreement with state regulators related to a multistate market conduct examination.
Health Insurance Innovations has been under regulatory scrutiny since the second quarter of 2016 for after it marketed short-term, limited insurance products as Affordable Care Act-compliant. While the company will have to pay more than $3 million to cover the cost of the multistate investigation, it does not have to admit to any wrongdoing.
The next day, however, the stock nearly lost all of those gains, falling more than 18%. For the week, the health broker was down 10.71% closing at $29.26.
Among the week's biggest losers were eHealth Inc., which shed 5.99%; Mercury General Corp., which tumbled 7.13%; and Unum Group, which slid 7.94%
Scott Flanders, CEO of eHealth, said in an interview that a dearth of news that would boost his company's stock led to the recent slide.
"Remember that it's up almost 10% for the month, even though it's down 5% this week," he said.
Mercury General, meanwhile, was downgraded by A.M. Best this week due to its continued heavy concentration in California that exposes it to substantial market volatility, catastrophe losses, legislative changes and judicial decisions.