Allstate shares up after smaller-than-expected loss

Allstate reports $620 million loss due to string of natural catastrophes. Allstate manages to raise insurance rates in 18 states.

Nati Harnik/AP/File
In this file photo taken Aug. 3, 2010, the Allstate logo is displayed at the insurance office, in Omaha, Neb. Allstate is reporting a $620 million second-quarter loss Aug. 1, 2011, as the property and casualty insurer was hit by a previously disclosed $2.3 billion in catastrophe losses.

BOSTON – Allstate reported a second-quarter loss Monday, hammered by $2.3 billion in catastrophe losses from waves of tornadoes, wildfires and storms.

Yet Allstate's numbers were better than Wall Street had expected as the property and casualty insurer's ratio for claims paid out versus dollars taken in improved. Shares rose more than 1 percent in a market that was down sharply.

The $620 million loss at the Northbrook, Ill. company amounted to $1.19 per share. That compared with a profit of $145 million, or 27 cents per share, in the same quarter a year ago.

Allstate's adjusted loss for the latest quarter was $1.23 per share. Analysts surveyed by FactSet had forecast a wider loss of $1.46 per share.

Allstate provided coverage during 33 catastrophic events during the April through June quarter, including five tornadoes, three wildfires and 25 wind and hail storms. It has been the deadliest year for tornadoes since 1950, based on an assessment of figures from the National Weather Service.

Before Monday's earnings, Allstate had disclosed pre-tax catastrophe losses of a total $2 billion combined for April and May, and another $300 million for June.

The $2.34 billion total is up from $636 million in the year-ago quarter, and tops levels hit in 2008, when Hurricanes Ike and Gustav drove third-quarter catastrophe losses to $1.8 billion. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita pushed quarterly losses to $4.7 billion in 2005.

Allstate's catastrophe losses for the latest quarter were more than twice the $1.09 billion reported recently by rival, Travelers Cos..

Allstate has pursued rate hikes to offset higher claims from violent storms. The company said increases averaging 6 percent were approved in 18 states.

Homeowner premiums written increased 2.6 percent in the second quarter, compared with a year ago. A 6 percent increase in average gross premium was partly offset by a nearly 4 percent decline in policies in force.

Allstate said its combined ratio improved to 87.5 during the second quarter, from 88.1 a year ago, excluding the impact of catastrophes as well as the previous year's re-estimate of the company's reserves. A ratio above 100 means that for every premium dollar taken in, more than a dollar went to cover claims and expenses. A figure below 100 means the company made a profit on its insurance operations.

Citi Investment Research analyst Keith Walsh said that trends driving the combined ratio were better than expected.

Adding in catastrophe losses, Allstate's combined ratio in the latest quarter was 123.3 points, compared with 96.8 in the year-ago quarter.

Revenue rose nearly 6 percent to $8.08 billion from $7.66 billion in last year's second quarter.

Allstate brand standard auto policies continued to decline, in line with the company's expectations.

Allstate said its financial unit reported operating income grew nearly 13 percent to $141 million in the second quarter, up from $125 million in the same quarter a year ago.

Allstate also disclosed that the pending sale of Allstate Bank, a division within its financial unit, had fallen apart, and that the bank division would be shut down in the fourth quarter.

Allstate is just the latest insurer to rid or try to rid itself of a banking division which, under post-banking crisis regulations, put them at a competitive disadvantage with other insurers.

MetLife announced two weeks ago that it was exploring a sale of its banking unit because the insurer was forced to be regulated as a bank holding company.

Allstate spokeswoman Maryellen Thielen said that the required regulatory approvals were not obtained by a date that Allstate and the buyer, Discover Financial Services, had agreed on.

Financial terms were never disclosed.

Allstate had little new to offer Monday on the sudden departure of the head of its Allstate Protection subsidiary.

On July 18, Allstate said Joseph Lacher was leaving immediately as head of unit, which sells auto and homeowner's insurance. Shares of Allstate fell 5 percent in one day, and three analysts downgraded Allstate'sstock citing Lacher's surprising exit and the lack of an explanation.

Allstate Chairman, President and CEO Thomas J. Wilson did not expound on the situation Monday, saying only at the start of a conference call that, "The decision was made, and we have moved on."

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Lacher's dismissal came eight weeks after he made a crude, derogatory reference about Wilson in a hotel bar conversation with a group of Allstate insurance agents at a company event. The Journal attributed the account to several unidentified people who were familiar with the situation.

The Journal said two of the people indicated that Wilson had become disenchanted with Lacher's efforts to turn around Allstate Protection. Lacher was named to the post in November 2009.

Wilson declined to comment on the Journal's report in a phone interview with The Associated Press on Monday.

No replacement has been named.

In the AP interview, Wilson declined to offer specific long-term plans on how Allstate Protection will be managed.

"I put this structure into place because I wanted us to accelerate our momentum, not lose momentum, because I felt like we need to accelerate from here," he said. "Whatever structure we use in future will be based on continuing to accelerate that momentum. I don't know what that is right at this point."

Shares of Allstate Corp. rose 62 cents to close Monday at $28.34.

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