Ace Limited (NYSE:ACE) is a global property and casualty company that made it relatively unscathed through the recent financial crisis and recession. The company has also established inroads into faster growing international areas in Asia and Latin America that will help the company meet its financial targets over the long term.
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Ace Limited wrote approximately $19 billion in gross premiums in 2009, with 75% of this business in the property and casualty insurance segment, and another 20% in accident and health. The company also underwrites some small amounts of personal lines and life insurance.
Ace Limited is fairly diversified in the property and casualty insurance business, writing policies in directors and officers liability, aviation, marine, environmental and various specialty lines. The company's operated return on equity averaged 16% since 2005, above that of the overall P&C industry, which had a 9% return.
Many investors use growth in tangible book value as a metric to judge an insurance company. Ace Limited has increased its tangible book value per share by a 15% compound annual growth rate over the last five years. The company's tangible book value per share stood at $46.76 per share at the end of 2009. Ace Limited has established a goal of growing book value per share by 15% annually with a return on equity of 15% over the cycle.
Ace Limited was recently put back into the S&P500 index. The company was removed two years ago after reincorporating from the Cayman Islands to Zurich, Switzerland. Other companies that reincorporated in Switzerland include Transocean (NYSE:RIG), Weatherford International (NYSE:WFT) and Noble Corp (NYSE:NE).
Ace Limited had $5.6 billion in net written premiums in North America in 2009, and reported operating income of $1.2 billion here. This includes business written in the United States and Canada, and at the company's subsidiary in Bermuda. The company turned in a profit here underwriting as well, with a combined ratio of 89.8% in 2009.
Ace Limited also writes considerable business internationally with policies written in nearly every country in the world. The company reported operating income of $840 million, net written premiums of $5.1 billion and a combined ratio of 89% here in 2009.
The overseas business has been growing fairly rapidly over the last five years, with the company making significant inroads into Brazil and Asia. Ace Limited is also a 20% shareholder in the Huatai Insurance Company of China, a large insurer in China. Huatai wrote $500 million in gross premiums in 2009, and these results are not consolidated onto Ace Limited's financials.
Ace Limited also owns 37% of Huatai Life Insurance, another Chinese insurer that has been increasing its business in the country. This company now has 58 sales offices and more than 19,000 agents in China.
Ace Limited also has done well on its investments historically, and earned $2 billion in pre tax income on its $47 billion investment portfolio in 2009. This portfolio is also diversified globally.
The Bottom Line
Ace Limited survived the financial crisis intact and is positioning the company in Asia and Latin America to help grow its book value by 15% annually over the current insurance cycle, while earning a 15% return on equity. (Learn more about insurance in our comprehensive Intro To Insurance Tutorial.)
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