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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Allstate planning 'dramatic' rate hikes within homeowners

Tuesday, September 13, 2011 1:25 PM ET

By Adam Cancryn

Allstate Corp. will combat mounting catastrophe losses with significant price hikes in its homeowners insurance segment, Chairman, President and CEO Thomas Wilson II said at a conference hosted by Barclays on Sept. 13.

Hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes and other natural disasters have cut into the company's profitability over the last three years and left its homeowners division with combined ratios exceeding 100%. Rather than hoping for calmer years going forward, Wilson said Allstate is adapting its business based on expectations that catastrophe losses will remain at these elevated levels. "We're assuming that expenses and losses will stay where they're at," Wilson said. "The first thing you've got to do is raise prices."

Allstate increased its homeowners rates by 8.4% in 2009 and 7.0% in 2010. It raised them another 3.4% during the first half of this year. However, the company plans on a few more years of "pretty dramatic price increases" before it is comfortable with the segment's disaster risk. At the same time, Wilson said the division has steadily reduced its exposure by cutting a significant number of policies in force.

Allstate will also reduce claims costs by redesigning its roof coverage products to age-rate the roofs it covers. The new approach will lower payouts for damage to older roofs. The fixed annuities segment has also dragged on Allstate's performance, Wilson said. The single-digit returns have been "subpar" while the broader economy struggles, but the company has no plans to radically alter the portfolio until interest rates start to improve.

"We're intentionally keeping returns low because we don't want to invest long term," he said. "When rates go up, we'll be able to reposition that business with different investments." Wilson also provided a brief update on Allstate's pending acquisition of Esurance, saying it is rethinking the company's marketing strategy. No major steps can be taken until the deal is closed, but Wilson said the insurer is considering bringing in a new advertising agency to lead the promotional push.

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