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American International Group (AIG) Q1 2021 Earnings Call Transcript | The Motley Fool

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American International Group (NYSE:AIG)
Q1 2021 Earnings Call
May 07, 2021, 8:30 a.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Good day, and welcome to AIG’s first-quarter 2021 financial results conference call. Today’s conference is being recorded. At this time, I would like to turn the conference over to Ms. Sabra Purtill, head of investor relations.

Please go ahead.

Sabra PurtillHead of Investor Relations

Thank you. Good morning and thank you, all, for joining us. Today’s call will cover AIG’s first-quarter 2021 financial results announced yesterday afternoon. The news release, financial supplement, and financial results presentation were posted on our website at www.aig.com.

And the 10-Q for the quarter will be filed later today after the call. Our speakers today include Peter Zaffino, president and CEO; and Mark Lyons, chief financial officer. Following their prepared remarks, we will have time for Q&A. David McElroy, CEO of general insurance; and Kevin Hogan, CEO of life and retirement; will be available for Q&A.

Today’s remarks may contain forward-looking statements including comments relating to company performance, strategic priorities, including AIG’s intent to pursue a separation of its life and retirement business, business mix, and market conditions, and the effects of COVID-19 on AIG. These statements are not guarantees of future performance or events and are based on management’s current expectations. Actual performance and events may materially differ. Factors that could cause results to differ include the factors described in our 2020 annual report on Form 10-K and our other recent filings made with the SEC.

AIG is not under any obligation and expressly disclaims any obligation to update forward-looking statements whether as a result of new information, future events, or otherwise. Additionally, some remarks may refer to non-GAAP financial measures. The reconciliation of such measures to the most comparable GAAP figures is included in our earnings release, financial supplement, and earnings presentation, all of which are available on our website. I’ll now turn the call over to Peter.

Peter ZaffinoPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Hello, and thank you for joining us today. This morning, I will start our call with a high-level overview of AIG’s consolidated financial results for the first quarter. I will then review results from general insurance and the significant progress we’ve made with our portfolio, which allowed us to pivot from remediation to grow heading into 2021. Following that, I will review first-quarter results for life retirement.

I will then provide an update on the work we’re doing on the separation of life retirement from AIG. And lastly, I’ll provide an AIG 200 update. Mark will give you more details on the financial results and then we will take questions. AIG had an excellent start to the year and we have significant momentum across the entire organization.

In the first quarter, we delivered an outstanding performance in general insurance. We saw continued solid results in life retirement. We made meaningful progress on the separation of life retirement from AIG and we significantly advance AIG 200 with the transformation remaining on track to deliver $1 billion in savings by the end of 2022 against the cost to achieve $1.3 billion. In addition, our balance sheet and financial flexibility remain exceptionally strong allowing us to focus on profitable growth across our portfolio, prudent investments in modern technology and digital capabilities, separating library retirement from AIG in a manner that maximizes value for our stakeholders and positions both companies for long-term success, and returning capital to our shareholders when appropriate.

As you saw in our press release, our adjusted after-tax income in the first quarter was $1.05 per diluted share compared to $0.12 in the prior-year quarter. We ended the first quarter with parent liquidity of $7.9 billion and we repurchased $92 million of common stock in connection with warrant exercises and an additional $207 million against the $500 million buyback plan we mentioned on our last call. We expect to complete the additional $230 million of that buyback plan by the end of the second quarter. Turning to general insurance, net premiums written increase approximately $600 million year over year, or approximately 6% on an FX constant basis, driven by nearly $1 billion, or a 22% year-over-year increase in our global commercial businesses.

This 22% increase in global commercial was driven by higher retentions; excellent new business production, particularly in international; strong performance in first-quarter portfolio repositioning; and continued rate momentum. North America commercial net premiums written grew by approximately 29%, an outstanding result due to a variety of factors including increased 1/1 writings on the balance sheet, continue strong submission flow in Lexington, rate improvement, strong retention and higher new business and segments we have been targeting for growth. In addition, as a result of the improved quality of our North American commercial portfolio and our improved reinsurance program, which now includes lower attach points in North America, we did not need to purchase as much CAT reinsurance limit in 2021. The benefits of which will come through in future quarters.

The international commercial had an exceptionally strong first quarter with the year-over-year growth in net premiums written of approximately 13% on an FX constant basis. Increases were balanced across the portfolio with the strongest growth in international financial lines followed by our specialty business. Looking ahead, we expect overall growth in net premiums written for the remainder of 2021 to be higher than the 6% we saw in the first quarter of this year with more balance in growth across our global commercial and personal portfolios. With respect to rate, momentum continued with overall global commercial rate increases of 15%.

North America’s commercial rate increases were also 15%, driven by improvements in Lexington casualty with 36% rate increases, excess casualty with 31% rate increases, and financial lines with rate increases over 24%. International commercial rate increases maintain strong momentum at 14%in the first quarter of 2021, which is typically the largest quarter of the year for our European business. These increases were driven by energy with 26% rate increases, commercial property with 19% rate increases, and financial lines with 20% rate increases. Turning to global personal insurance, net premiums written in the first quarter declined 23% on an FX constant basis due to our travel business continuing to be impacted by the pandemic as well as reinsurance sessions to Syndicate 2019.

Our partnership with Lloyd’s. Adjusted for these impacts, global personal insurance, net premiums written were down only 1.6% on an FX constant basis. We expect to see strong year-over-year growth for the remainder of the year with a rebound in global personal insurance as the effects of COVID subside, the repositioning and reunderwriting this portfolio nears completion, and a full year of reinsurance sessions relating to Syndicate 2019 will be complete. We are very pleased with the continued improvement in our combined ratios, including and excluding CATs.

I don’t need to remind everyone where we were when I outlined our turnaround strategy three years ago. In the first quarter of this year, the adjusted accident year combined ratio was 92.4%, a 310-basis-point improvement year over year, driven by a 440-basis-point improvement in our adjusted commercial accident year combined ratio. The adjusted accident year loss ratio improved 160 basis points, to 59.2%, driven by a 330-basis-point improvement in global commercial. The expense ratio improved 150 basis points reflecting the impact of AIG 200 savings and continued expense discipline.

We expect to continue to improve the expense ratio throughout 2021, particularly as we deliver on our AIG 200 programs. To provide further color on combined ratio improvements, in North America, the adjusted accident year combined ratio improved to 95.6%, 210-basis-point improvement year over year. This reflects a 370-basis-point improvement in the North American commercial lines adjusted accident year combined ratio, which came in at 93.9%. In international, the adjusted accident year combined ratio improved to 90.2%, a 340-basis-point improvement year over year.

This reflects a 490-basis-point improvement in the international commercial lines adjusted accident year combined ratio, which came in at 86.8%, 150-basis-point improvement in the international personal lines adjusted accident year combined ratio which was 94%. With respect to catastrophes, first quarter 2021 was the worst first quarter for the industry in over a decade in terms of weather-related cap losses largely due to winter storms in Texas. Net cap losses in general insurance are $422 million primarily driven by the Texas storms and do not include any new COVID-related estimated losses for the first quarter. Now let me touch on reinsurance assumed.

As I noted, Validus Re saw strong 1/1 renewals across most lines with attractive levels of risk-adjusted rate improvement. The team focuses on prudent capital deployment and portfolio construction while improving technical ratios and reducing volatility. With respect to April 1 renewals, within the international property, rate adjustments varied from mid-single-digits to upwards of 30% and loss impacted accounts and our Japanese renewals were very successful with 100% client retention, net limits largely similar year over year, and risk-adjusted rate increases, which were in the high single-digits. Before moving on, I want to highlight the quality and the strength of our general insurance portfolio.

Of course, optimization work will continue but the magnitude of what was accomplished over the last three years is worth reflecting on because the first quarter of 2021 was an important inflection point for our team. Our focus pivoted from remediation to driving profitable growth. These are a couple of concrete examples of how we have repositioned the global portfolio. Growth limits and global commercial will reduce by over $650 billion.

North America excess casualty removed over $10 billion in mid-limits and increased writings in mid-excess layers in order to achieve a more balanced portfolio. And in Lexington, we reposition this business to focus on wholesale distribution. The team grew the top line in 2020 for the first time in over a decade. The portfolio is now more balanced and the submission flow has increased over 100% over the last couple of years.

The enormity of the turnaround and the complexity of execution that was accomplished cannot be understated. We now have a disciplined culture that is grounded in underwriting fundamentals, a well-defined and articulated risk appetite, we remain laser-focused on terms and conditions, and obtaining rate above loss cost. And we have an appropriate reinsurance program in place to manage severity and volatility. Our global portfolio is poised for improving profitability and more predictable results.

While all this was taking place in general insurance, our colleagues in life retirement did an excellent job maintaining a market-leading position in the protection and retirement savings industry and, together with our investment colleagues, consistently delivered a solid performance against the backdrop of persistent low-interest rates and challenging market conditions. Turning to life retirements first quarter. This business also had strong results. Adjusted pre-tax income in the first quarter was $941 million, an adjusted return on common equity was 14.2% reflecting our diversified businesses and high-quality investment portfolio.

The sensitivities we provided last quarter generally held up with respect to equity markets, 10-year reinvestment rates, and mortality although first-quarter results were toward the higher end of our mortality expectations of reinsurance and other offsets. We continue to actively manage impacts from the low-interest rate and tighter credit spreads environment and the range we previously provided for expected annual spread compression of 8 to 16 basis points has not changed. Our high-quality investment portfolios well-positioned to navigate uncertain environments as demonstrated by our steady performance through the macroeconomic stress and high levels of volatility in 2020. And our variable annuity hedging program has continued to perform as expected, providing offsetting protection during periods of volatile capital markets.

We believe life retirement is positioned to deliver strong, sustainable financial results due to the quality of its balance sheet, diversified product offerings and distribution, effective hedging programs, and disciplined risk management. With respect to the separation of life retirement from AIG, we continue to work diligently and with a sense of urgency toward an IPO of about 19.9% of the business. We’ve made significant progress on several fronts including preparing stand-alone audited financials and having an independent party conduct a thorough actuarial review. No concerns have been raised about the life retirement portfolio as a result of this work.

As I noted on our last earnings call, we did receive a number of credible increases from parties interested in purchasing a minority stake in life retirement and our investment management group. We conducted a robust evaluation of those opportunities to determine if they offered a better long-term outcome for our stakeholders than an IPO. At this time, we believe an IPO remains the optimal path forward to maximize value for our stakeholders and to position the business for additional value creation as a stand-alone company. In addition, an IPO allows AIG to retain maximum flexibility regarding the operations of the business, as well as the separation process.

Overall, I’m pleased with the progress we’ve made. Turning to AIG 200, all 10 operational programs are deep into execution mode. Our transformation teams continue to perform exceptionally well despite the continued remote-work environment. Recent progress on IT modernization has enabled us to reach the halfway point or $500 million of our run-rate savings target.

$250 million in cumulative run-rate savings has been realized in APTI through the first quarter of this year with $75 million of incremental savings achieved within the first-quarter income statement. Key highlights on our progress include the successful transition of our shared services operations and over 6,000 colleagues to Accenture at year-end 2020. This partnership is going extremely well with KPIs at or better than pre-transition levels. We also negotiated a multi-year agreement with Amazon Web Services to execute on an accelerated cloud strategy, which is a significant step forward in modernizing our infrastructure.

And with a new highly experienced leader in Japan, we made significant progress during the first quarter on our AIG 200 strategy in Japan and are on track to finalize target outcomes as we modernize this business by developing digital capabilities with agile product innovation. Before turning the call over to Mark, I want to thank our global colleagues for their resilience and excellent support of our clients, policyholders, distribution partners, and other stakeholders. The last year in particular brought unimaginable stress and tragedy across the world. And for our colleagues, it came during a time of significant and foundational change.

Yet they never lost sight of our purpose at AIG and continue to be focused and dedicated to the important work we do, each other, and the communities in which we live and work. I could not be prouder of what we’ve achieved together. We are in great businesses, a global scale, loyal clients, exceptional relationships with distribution of reinsurance partners, world-class experts and industry veterans, and we strive to be a responsible corporate citizen with a diverse and inclusive workforce that delivers value to our shareholders and all other stakeholders. I am confident AIG is on its way to becoming a top-performing company in everything that we do.

With that, I’ll turn the call over to Mark.

Mark LyonsChief Financial Officer

Thank you, Peter, and good morning, everyone. Since Peter has already provided a good overview of the quarter, I’ll just add that we’ve posted a 7.4% annualized adjusted return on common equity at the AIG level, an 8.2% adjusted return on tangible common equity at the AIG level, an 8.5% adjusted return on segment common equity for general insurance, and a 14.2% adjusted return on segment common equity for life and retirement. Now moving to general insurance, first-quarter adjusted pre-tax income was $845 million, up $344 million year over year, primarily reflecting increased underwriting income in international, as well as increased global net investment income driven by alternatives. Catastrophe losses totaled $422 million pre-tax or 7.3 loss ratio points this quarter, compared to 6.9 loss ratio points in the prior-year quarter.

The CAT losses were mostly comprised of $390 million related to the winter storms, primarily impacting commercial lines including AIG rate. The net impact of the winter storms reflects the benefit of our commercial reinsurance program and changes to our PCG portfolio as a result of syndicate 2019. Overall, prior-year development was $56 million favorable this quarter, which included $58 million of net favorable development in North America, driven by $52 million of favorable development from the ADC amortization, and $2 million of net unfavorable development in international. It’s worthwhile to note that general insurance still has $6.6 billion remaining of the 80% quota share ADC cover.

There was also, embedded within these figures, $33 million of unfavorable development related to COVID-19 claims that relate back to 2020 loss occurrences or a movement of less than 3%, emanating primarily from Validus Re and Talbot or Lloyd’s syndicate. Our general insurance business continued to materially improve, driven largely by strong accident year 2021 ex-CAT showings in both North America and international commercial lines. So, rather than double up on facts that Peter has shared, the main drivers of the attrition with underwriting gain improvements were for North America commercial, Lexington, financial lines, and excess casualty. And from international commercial, the main drivers of improvement stemmed from property, Talbot, and financial lines.

As Peter, noted on a global-commercial-lines basis, the accident year combined ratio, excluding CAT was 90.4%, which represents a 440-basis-point improvement over the prior year’s quarter with 75% of that improvement attributable to a lower loss ratio and 25% of the improvement attributable to a lower expense ratio. Turning to personal insurance, starting in the second quarter of this year, meaning next quarter, our year-over-year comparisons will begin to improve, given the timing of the initial COVID-19 impacts and the formation of syndicate 2019 in May of 2020. Although North American personal lines had a 74% drop in net premiums written as Peter highlighted, it’s also important to understand that the other units within the segment which represented nearly 50% of the quarter’s net written premium is comprised mostly of warranty and personal A&H business had their net premium only fall marginally. Our international personal lines business, which by size dominates our overall global personal insurance business, continues to perform well with 150-basis-points improvement in the accident year ex-CAT combined ratio, reflecting an improved loss ratio and expense discipline.

Now, to expand on some of Peter’s marketplace commentary, various areas continued to accelerate the adequacy of achieved rate beyond that of prior quarters. For example, the level of excess casualty rate increases continues and in many units, exceeds prior results such as CAT excess coverage out of Bermuda, North America corporate, and national admitted excess, and the Lexington. The increase achieved in the first quarter of 2020 and compounded in the first quarter of 2021 alone, ignoring prior to 2020 rate increases, exceeded 150% for Bermuda-based capacity business, which makes sense given recent years’ price deficiency on these capacity excess layers, and approximately 115% for the other mentioned units. U.S.

financial lines on the same compound basis has seen in excess of 80% increases for the staples of D&O and EPLI. Internationally, the 14% first-quarter overall rate increase saw continued rate expansion in key markets, such as the U.K. at plus 23%, global specialty at plus 15%, Europe and the Middle East at 14%, Latin America at 13%, and Asia Pacific also at 13% when excluding the tempering influence of predominantly Japan at 3%. Lastly cyber achieved our highest rate increase yet at 41% for the quarter.

These increases are clearly broad-based by region and line of business all around the world. I’d now like to spend a few minutes on two observations. One, the impact of net rate change versus gross rate change. And two, some examples of new business rate adequacy relative to a renewal rate adequacy.

So, first, our achieved North America commercial rate change for the quarter on a net basis is now estimated to be at least 150 basis points stronger than the corresponding growth rate change, largely due to our increased net positions across selected product lines. Last year much of the achieved growth rate increase was being ceded to reinsurers, where now there is much less so. The shift to higher net positions resulted directly from our prior-stated strategy of improving the gross book such that we had increased competence to retain the appropriate amount of net, and because we could not take a higher net position previously because of the legacy imbalance of very large limits written. Now, moving on to relative rate adequacy, we see continuing indications in North America of new business having stronger relative rate adequacy over renewal rate levels in most lines of business.

This likely doesn’t reflect different class mixes, but instead an additional margin for a lesser-known exposure. However, this should be expected and is also historically supported given where we are in the underwriting cycle as new business is less established with an insurer versus an existing client renewal relationship. A further related item involves renewal retentions. As general insurance implemented revised underwriting standards, renewal retentions predictably would have been impacted, especially in the target lines.

Now, even with superior risk selection rate and term condition changes that have been achieved, renewal retentions have improved to the mid-80% in the aggregate across all commercial lines in both North America and across internationally. We also see improvement in the Lexington, where E&S has lower industry retentions based on the nature of the business, and this is very positive for the book. And we see it across specialty lines and across most admitted retail books. This is indicative of the reunderwriting actions being successful, having settled down, and now with general insurance being comfortable with the underlying insured exposures that meet our risk appetite.

Based on current market conditions and our view of the foreseeable future, we continue to anticipate earned margin expansion throughout 2021 and into 2022 resulting from AIG’s favorable underwriting actions taken, favorable global market conditions, maturely improved terms and conditions, and a more profitable, less volatile business mix. As a result, I would like to reconfirm our outlook for a sub-90% accident year combined ratio excluding CAT by the end of 2022. Global commercial lines are very nearly at the sub-90% level now and global personal lines is running at 96% for the first quarter. Given our portfolio composition, and market conditions, and our strategic repositioning of North America personal, we anticipate greater continued margin expansion within commercial lines than personal lines.

We are highly confident that we will achieve our sub-90% target and have several pass to help us get there. Some by a mix, some by a reasonable market conditions persisting, and some via expense levers. Now, I’d also like to unpack some of Peter’s high-level net written premium growth comments for 2021 with an emphasis here on next quarter, second quarter. North America commercial is expecting to see growth of approximately 10% for the second quarter of 2021 relative to the prior-year quarter, driven mostly from Lexington across a host of product lines and admitted casualty both primary and excess.

This growth will be two-pronged as growth on the front end will be coupled with lower reinsurance sessions, especially from those lines subject to the casualty quota share. North America personal is expected to see significant second-quarter 2021 growth, but it is driven by the syndicate 2019 reinsurance session change that we’ve been signaling. You will recall, North American personal had a negative $150 million net written premium in the second quarter of 2020 due to many syndicate 2019 treaties becoming effective, including an unearned premium cover for the PCG high-net-worth book. That distortive spike in sessions, which is not repeatable in the second quarter of 2021 will give the appearance of considerable growth, but instead will provide a PCG net premium that is more stable on an ongoing basis.

So, overall, for North America, both personal and commercial combined, we anticipate net written premium growth between 35% to 40% for the second quarter over the second quarter of the prior year. International commercial in the second quarter of 2021 is expected to be roughly plus 7% net written premium growth, driven by global specialty, financial lines, and Talbot, and international purpose — personal is expected to be approximately flat relative to the prior-year quarter. Now, turning to life and retirement, adjusted pre-tax income increased by 57% or $340 million compared to the first quarter of 2020 with favorable equity markets driving higher private equity returns, lower deferred acquisition and cost amortization, a rebound in most areas of sales, and higher-fee income. The increase also reflects favorable short-term impacts from tighter credit spreads driving higher call and tender income and higher fair value option bond returns.

This increase was partially offset by adverse mortality as U.S. COVID-related population death of approximately 205,000 in the first quarter were higher than or earlier anticipated which was also reflected in our own experience. In terms of premiums and deposits, we continue to see encouraging improvement in retail sales. Individual retirement premium and deposits grew 8% from the prior-year quarter, which we consider a pre-COVID quarter as the sales pipeline carried through March of last year with index and variable annuities, both exceeding prior-year levels.

In group retirement, group acquisition deposits increased significantly from prior year, although both periodic and nonperiodic deposits declined, leading to a marginal reduction in overall gross group premiums and deposits of 2%. In life insurance, premiums and deposits grew 6% overall with year-over-year growth in both the U.S. and international. Finally, while institutional markets did not conclude any significant pension risk transfer transactions in the quarter, the pipeline of direct and reinsurance transactions going into the second quarter is very strong, particularly with many defined benefit plans nearing fully funded status.

Turning to net flows and related activity. Our portfolio reflects the dynamic environment quarter by quarter of the last year. Individual retirement net flows improved by approximately $1 billion over the first quarter of 2020 driven by variable annuities and retail mutual fund. And yet when excluding retail mutual funds, net flows were positive, led by index annuities rebounding to be plus 1 billion for the quarter, which is virtually identical to one year ago, but with steady progress from a low of 439 million in the second quarter of 2020 to the plus 1 billion this quarter.

Surrender rates were up slightly over the last few quarters within individual retirement for fixed and index, whereas variable annuity surrender rates have been more comparable as have for group retirement. Similarly, the life business has seen consistently lower lapse and surrender rates over the last four quarters than prior. Life and retirement continue to actively manage the impacts from the low-interest rate and tighter credit spread environment, and the previously provided range for expected annual spread compression has not changed. New business margins generally remain within our targets at current new money returns due to active product management, disciplined pricing approaches, and our significant asset origination and structuring capabilities.

Moving to other operations. Adjusted pre-tax loss was 530 million, which was inclusive of 176 million of losses from the consolidation and eliminations line, which principally reflects adjustments, offsetting investment returns in the subsidiaries by being eliminated in other operations. So it wouldn’t be double counting. Before consolidation and eliminations, adjusted pre-tax loss was $354 million, which was $481 million better than the first quarter of 2020, which included a $317 million adjusted pre-tax loss related to Fortitude and a $30 million one-time cash grant given to employees to help with unanticipated costs when the global pandemic began last March.

The first quarter also reflects lower corporate interest expense and lower corporate general expenses, and we expect this to continue throughout 2021. However, one might expect some continued volatility within the consolidation and eliminations line, which can fluctuate based on investment returns. Now, shifting to investments. Net investment income on an APTI basis was 3.2 billion or 492 million higher than the first quarter of 2020.

Adjusting first-quarter 2020 for Fortitude’s investment income to make the comparison apples to apples, this quarter’s net investment income on an APTI basis was actually 611 million higher than the prior year, or plus 23%, reflecting strong private equity and real estate returns, as well as bond tender and call premiums, which more than offset the lower income on the AFS fixed income portfolio. We continue to have a high-quality investment portfolio that is positioned well under any market conditions. Turning to the balance sheet. At March 31, book value per common share was $72.37, down 5.3% from year-end, reflecting net unrealized mark-to-market losses on the investment portfolio.

Adjusted book value per share was $58.69, up nearly 3% from December 31. At quarter-end, AIG parent, as Peter noted, had cash and short-term liquidity assets of $7.9 billion, and we repaid our March debt maturity of $1.5 billion and repurchased the $362 million of shares, as Peter outlined. Our GAAP debt leverage at March 31 was 28.4%, flat to year-end given downward fixed income market movements negatively impacting AOCI despite the repaid debt maturity mentioned earlier. Our primary operating subsidiaries remain profitable and well-capitalized.

For general insurance, we estimate the U.S. pool fleet risk-based capital ratio for the first quarter to be between 465% and 475%, and life and retirement fleet is estimated to be between 435% and 445%, both well above our target ranges. And with that, I will now turn it back over to Peter.

Peter ZaffinoPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Mark. And Jake, I think we’re ready to start Q&A.

Questions & Answers:

Operator

[Operator instructions] And we will begin with Elyse Greenspan with Wells Fargo.

Elyse GreenspanWells Fargo Securities — Analyst

Hi, thanks. Good morning. My first question is on the — sorry, the life and retirement separation. I appreciate the update in terms of, you know, working toward the IPO.

Is the plan in terms of timing for that to still take place at some point later this year? Or do you have a more finer tune around that?

Peter ZaffinoPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. Thanks, Elyse. As I said in my prepared remarks, you know, we’re working with a sense of urgency on the IPO. We’ve made really significant progress working on stand-alone financial statements, actuarial, have set up, you know, the organization to operationally separate.

So we’re working very hard on several fronts related to the IPO. I mean the ultimate timing of completing this step, you know, it should depend on a number of factors. Some are out of our control, such as regulatory and market conditions. But we’re still, you know, working toward the same timeline, which is, you know, by the end of 2021.

But again, depending on those factors, it could always slip into, you know, the first-quarter 2022. But it’s — you know, the company is focused, and we’re going through all the details and moving forward.

Elyse GreenspanWells Fargo Securities — Analyst

OK. And then my second question is on the market commentary you guys gave. A lot of helpful color. You know, Mark, you said that you guys expect continued earned margin expansion throughout 2021 and into 2022.

So is — I guess you’re kind of giving us a market view, it sounds like, for the next year. Is the expectation that rates would stabilize and get closer to trend in 2022? I’m just trying to put that together. You’re just kind of giving us the outlook that rates should remain strong through 2021. And then we’ll see how 2022 transpires with earned versus loss trend.

Peter ZaffinoPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Let me start with your question on rate, and then I’ll turn it over to Mark to provide a little more context and then talk about the earned. But, you know, I think, look, this is the third year where we’re seeing, you know, rate, at least at, you know, at AIG, above loss cost. And again, you really have to just, you know, take a look at the overall portfolio because, you know, quarter to quarter, it may be a little bit different, meaning, you know, just the seasonality of our business, whether it’s Validus Re having a big inception date in the first quarter, crop specialty Europe driven more toward the first quarter. So when we look at it, we’re looking at, you know, first quarter to first quarter, and there has been no slowdown in terms of the rate environment and believe that we’re building margin above loss cost rate on rate.

And I think that’s kind of where Mark was alluding to. You know, the market environment, at least, always hard to predict, but we think the market that we’re in is the market we’re going to see for the remaining part of the year, and it’s very hard to predict, you know, beyond that. Mark, do you want to add any more context?

Mark LyonsChief Financial Officer

Just a bit. Thank you, Peter. I think Peter nailed it both, Elyse. I want to reemphasize, though what Peter said.

Every quarter’s mix is pretty different. And I know that’s a written viewpoint that earns in. But we’ve already written, you know, business in — that we can — last year that’s going to earn in 2021. And we’ve already written one quarter that’s going to go into 2022.

So we’re not counting — we believe we’re going to have the margin expansion, as denoted, that doesn’t really depend on the existing level of rate levels in the market.

Elyse GreenspanWells Fargo Securities — Analyst

OK. Thanks for the color.

Peter ZaffinoPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Elyse. Next question, please.

Operator

Next question will come from Brian Meredith with UBS.

Brian MeredithUBS — Analyst

Yes, thanks. So a couple here. Quickly, just Mark, I’m curious, you said you had some COVID development in the quarter. Where did that come from? And are we pretty close to, you think, kind of being done with the COVID-related losses, at least, in the general insurance business? I understand there could still be some more in life.

Peter ZaffinoPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Go ahead.

Mark LyonsChief Financial Officer

So, yeah. We can localize a lot of that to contingency business out of Talbot. And on Validus, I think there was really just two contracts involved. So it’s not like a widespread in any way.

So that overwhelmingly accounts for it. And I think for your second question, yeah, we didn’t put any additional provisions. We’re happy where we are associated with it. So I think we’re on the downflow, to say the least.

Brian MeredithUBS — Analyst

Gotcha. And then my second question, I guess, for Peter, for both of you all. What is your kind of view with respect to, you know, loss trend or kind of inflation and loss trend as we kind of — the economy reopens here, you know, courts reopen, kind of how are you thinking about that, you know, from a reserving perspective and maybe also from a pricing perspective?

Peter ZaffinoPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. So I’ll have Mark, you know, add to my comments. We’re watching it very carefully, Brian. You know, it’s something that, again, as it emerges throughout the world, the economy starts to reopen.

You know, we look at it, you know, line of business by line of business, lead versus excess, you know, different trends that we’re seeing in the portfolio, you know, emerging over the last year and then how we forecast that to look for the future. So I think the balance of the portfolio is being shaped in a way to mitigate that. And we’re very focused on making sure that even in the growth that we outlined in the first quarter that we’re growing, where we, you know, know that we’re going to get the risk-adjusted returns in terms of deploying the capital. So I think we’re very disciplined.

It’s, you know, circular with underwriting actuarial claims. We’re learning a lot and making sure that we’re positioned the portfolio accordingly. Mark, do you want to add anything to that?

Mark LyonsChief Financial Officer

Yeah. Thank you, Peter. I think I may have commented on this before, but I think it’s probably worth bearing again is, long term, there’s generally been a 200 basis point addition beyond economic inflation for social inflation. Clearly, that’s been south of that, you know, over the last few years.

But that’s one way of looking at it by having a range of loss trends and not necessarily just point estimating it, and it really varies by line of business, clearly. I think in the past, I’ve also commented that our loss trend in excess casualty, for example, is very close to double digits, number one. And so really it varies across the board. And when you get to Peter’s comment on portfolio, think of the best way to insulate yourself from unexpected spikes in economic or social inflation, you know, irrespective of which one, is by having the portfolio change.

And the mix away from leads and having more mid excess, not just in casualty, but other places, aggregately moves that portfolio further away from risk insulating you more from any compound views of that. So I think that’s how we look at it. And I think all of that is important and it comes to bear.

Brian MeredithUBS — Analyst

Yeah. Mark, I was just — part of my question, though, was I was just asking this, do you think about when you make reserve assumptions or pick assumptions, are you making different assumptions with respect to what potential loss trend in when you’re pricing the business?

Mark LyonsChief Financial Officer

Not materially because you have calendar year views, right? So claims when they’re settled or when they’re reported don’t care what their accident year was.

Brian MeredithUBS — Analyst

Gotcha. OK. Thank you.

Peter ZaffinoPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Brian. Next question, please.

Operator

We’ll now hear from Paul Newsome with Piper Sandler.

Paul NewsomePiper Sandler — Analyst

Good morning, and congratulations on the quarter. I was hoping you’d turn to maybe a big picture question about the life insurance business. And just — is there kind of a path to positive net flows? You know, obviously, the institutional business is volatile quarter to quarter. But maybe you can just give us a sense of — you know, especially as we get closer to thinking about the IPO, how those net flows might recover to a positive level.

Peter ZaffinoPresident and Chief Executive Officer

OK. Thanks, Paul. Kevin?

Kevin HoganChief Executive Officer of Life and Retirement

Yeah. Thanks, Paul. Look, net flows reflect the trends of premiums and deposits as against the surrender behavior. As Mark pointed out, we haven’t really seen much material change in the surrender behavior a little bit within sort of expected margins.

But premiums and deposits is really another story. And, you know, we said that the second quarter last year was going to be the low watermark. It certainly was. And in fact, the first quarter of this year is one of the largest sales quarters we’ve had in the individual businesses since we created AIG Financial Distributors.

And while the month of January was actually still below last year, and we consider last year’s first quarter, you know, a pre-COVID quarter because, really, the pipelines were full right through March, April. We saw, you know, growth from February over January, March over February, a pretty significant growth. So the end of the quarter, we’re really back at what we’d consider to be, you know, normal run rates for that business. And as Mark pointed out, both index and variable annuity, very strong for us there.

And so, you know, the one line of business, fixed annuities, they’re a little bit lower than historical levels, but we also saw recovery in fixed annuities toward the end of the quarter. And so we’re feeling optimistic about the forward curve for the individual business. And as Mark pointed out across annuities, because we’ve announced relative to the retail mutual funds, right, we had positive flows. So I’m confident relative to the flows in the individual retirement business.

For group retirement, it’s a little bit of a different story. The group acquisitions — the new group acquisitions actually was one of our strongest quarters. It increased by 150 million over the prior year. Whereas periodics, we’re down about 50 million.

And I think that reflects furloughs and people leaving the workforce. And then the nonperiodics, we’re also down a little bit for a variety of reasons. And in the group retirement business, we still see some modest negative flows. But I think that reflects the fact that we’re a small medium-sized plan provider.

And in the consolidation that continues to go on in healthcare, we do see some of that large case consolidation. But the assets under management have continued to grow, obviously supported by equity markets. And that’s an important base of earnings for the fee side of the business. So we feel confident.

You know, we’re being careful about capital deployment. We’re seeing conditions improve. And our diverse product range and channel allow us to be careful where we deploy the capital, and we’re seeing that stocks come through in the first quarter.

Paul NewsomePiper Sandler — Analyst

Is there a market component to earn interest rate component to keeping the ROE at least stable in the life business near term?

Kevin HoganChief Executive Officer of Life and Retirement

Well, certainly, you know, we provide the sensitivities. And depending upon where equity markets are, where interest rates are, where credit spreads are, and which way they’re going, they have a kind of a short-term impacts on earnings volatility. But we price our products, you know, to make sure that we’re making our returns based on, you know, broadly expected market conditions, not necessarily a single deterministic scenario. So we’re not relying on market returns necessarily in the pricing of our products.

Peter ZaffinoPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Paul.

Paul NewsomePiper Sandler — Analyst

Thank you.

Peter ZaffinoPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Next question.

Operator

Next question will come from Ryan Tunis with Autonomous Research.

Ryan TunisAutonomous Research — Analyst

Hey, thanks. Good morning. Had one for Mark and would even be interested in David’s thoughts if he’s on the call. But I guess thinking about classic economic inflation, you know, wage-driven, historically, been kind of bad for workers’ competence.

It’s been a long time since we’ve had it. Are the risks from that type of scenarios on that line kind of still the same as they were 20 years ago, or the mitigating factors — just how are you thinking about workers comp if we do have just a normal inflationary economic cycle?

Peter ZaffinoPresident and Chief Executive Officer

You know, let me start. You got to remember that, you know, two-thirds of our business is on high retentions. And so, you know, the fluctuation of frequency, and, you know, wage inflation, and loss cost inflation is largely retained by our clients. I mean, so, you know, we’ve seen some fluctuations just because of a high attaching points in which we have in the workers’ comp book.

And so, you know, Dave has been working really hard on our large account business and well — as well as workers’ compensation in terms of the positioning in that. And I think the attachment points, the positioning of the book is really important. Dave, do you want to just talk a little bit about what you’re seeing in the marketplace and how we are reacting to it?

Dave McElroyExecutive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. Thank you, Peter. The — I think, you know, workers’ comp, I think there is some concern with COVID that there would be presumption, that mostly does not affect our book. OK? Because of the high retentions that our clients have.

That’s very different than the middle market books and they — and the small commercial books that might exist. I think the more illuminating issue is that workers’ comp has been a profitable line, you know, whether it was the state — the state laws that muted it. And, often, you know, we get lost in our generalization of what is rate increase. Workers’ comp has had a modest to negative rate increase because it’s been profitable for the industry.

And I think it’s very important for everyone to understand that that’s a discrete market and a lot of the different parts of the market that we trade in, we — that’s absorbed by our clients. So the — you know, if that same client has general liability, or financial lines, or even property, that’s a different market with different pricing than might be existing in the workers’ comp market. So workers’ comp market has actually worked. And, you know, everybody talks about it in terms of the rate increase, but that’s a discrete tight market that reflects that and I think our industry is fairly sophisticated to understand why that happens and then why other businesses need rate or need rate to expect — to reflect exposure.

So it’s — you know, that’s the workers’ comp market. It’s been a winner for this industry because of the reforms that happened at the state level.

Mark LyonsChief Financial Officer

Hey, Ryan, I’d like to add to just one quick thing if I could. You really started the question, you know, doing the correlation on wage. And, you know, given Peter really talking about two-thirds of the book is really loss sensitive over high attachment point. It’s actually more of a medical question than a wage indemnity question because medical trends is what could sneak over, especially on major permanent partials, things of that nature, and permanent totals.

So that’s why it was actually a — we’re in a really good position on that because of the analysis that was done about three years ago on that book that’s still holding today. So all those past assumptions are absolutely holding.

Ryan TunisAutonomous Research — Analyst

Understood. And then my follow-up is just thinking about, you know, you’re running a little bit over 92, so you need about two points to sub 90. I just — listening to the rate alone, you know, I’d seemingly would be able to get you there. Obviously, I think that there are some offsetting headwinds or just other things that, you know, along the way you got to get past.

I’m not sure if that’s more new business or what. Could you just remind us of some offsets to rate in terms of getting down to that 90 over the next couple of years?

Peter ZaffinoPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Ryan. So there’s, you know, multiple factors in terms of driving the sub 90 combined ratio. One is we had a terrific start to the year. And so you can see, you know, we’re driving top-line growth, driving margin, improving combined ratio.

So, you know, we like the momentum that we have. I think we’re going to focus on continuing on the underwriting side. Certainly, the culture we’re building out of risk selection, terms and conditions, making sure that we’re getting rate above loss cost is the discipline that Dave is driving through general insurance. And they’re doing very well.

I think you’ll start to see — you know, I talked about in my prepared remarks the AIG 200 while we announced run rate. We got to catch up a little bit in terms of some of the implementations. So we know that we have, you know, expense tailwinds in terms of what will be coming through with AIG 200. In addition to that, just normal expense management and being very disciplined on reinvestment and making sure that we are, you know, a company that’s very focused on ways in which we can improve what we’re doing and create our own investment capacity.

I think you’ll start to see, you know, the earned premium increasing from, you know, growth and strong new business. You know, international had the best quarter new business that they’ve had since the new teams arrive. So that’s — there’s a lot of momentum there. And then expect to see new business pick up as we continue throughout the year and the economy starts to recover.

And then, you know, what I also mentioned in my prepared remarks is that we are not going to need as much reinsurance going forward just based on the gross portfolio. And so like we needed to probably buy a little bit more cap, a little bit more on the risk side. Those are all improving and those will be tailwinds over a period of time. So there’s four or five components that will drive improved combined ratio in the subsequent quarters and into next year.

Next question, please.

Operator

We’ll hear from Brian Shields with KBW. Meyer Shields, go ahead.

Meyer ShieldsKBW — Analyst

Good morning, can you hear me?

Peter ZaffinoPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Yes, Meyer.

Meyer ShieldsKBW — Analyst

OK, sorry about that. So, Mark, I’m trying to tie together a couple of comments because you’re expecting, if I understand correctly, margin improvement into 2020, but we still get below the 90% on the underlying by year-end. So does that mean that we should expect to be there sooner if you won’t need margin improvement later in 2022 to get below 90?

Mark LyonsChief Financial Officer

Do you want me to start that, Peter?

Peter ZaffinoPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, go ahead, Mark.

Mark LyonsChief Financial Officer

So I think what — I think what we’re trying to say in various ways is that looking sequentially is really not the way. You’ve got to really look at a quarter over quarter for the points that Peter brought out before about the mix being pretty different. The fact — that although we reduce volatility dramatically, we still write volatile lines, right? So you can still have a pop here or there that may not have really occurred in this quarter or the last quarter that still could, you know, at another time. So we really need to see a few more accident quarters, if you will, pop in before we can declare victory in that sense.

So you can’t look at each quarter as a totally independent stand-alone on this quarterly basis.

Meyer ShieldsKBW — Analyst

OK. That makes sense. The second question, I guess if we talk about cyber rate increases, and I don’t know whether this sort of the way we typically think about trend is relevant. But is there any way we — you can outline how cyber-loss expectations are changing?

Peter ZaffinoPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Dave, you want to take that?

Dave McElroyExecutive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, the — thank you. The — you know, the — when we look — you know, sometimes there’s — we index over off of rate increases. And in fact, you know, a big part of our story here at AIG has actually been risk deflected, and limit management, and retentions, and terms and conditions. And cyber — you know, cyber was this year’s case study, OK? It had been a profitable business.

Ransomware started showing up. And what we’ve done is we’ve cauterized that with sub-limits and co-insurance to reflect the fact that we’re a big primary player and we need to manage ransomware. And that’s what we’ve done. And our renewal retention has come down.

Our rate increase, which may be something cited and exciting for others, is up 40 — it’s 41%. But for us, it’s actually managing the risk on the other side. So I’d look at that rate increase as a factor as opposed to our not only vertical but horizontal risk. It’s a tough risk.

We have it worldwide. We’re leaders. We’ve been very active in terms of our prophylactic and our involvement in terms of trying to stem the actual loss itself. And we look at that as a viable product that we have controlled horizontally with reinsurance and vertically with reinsurance and with partnerships.

And, you know, we look at that not only like every other specialty business that we have in this company. We have a lot of them. We have to attack it and we have to underwrite it with the facts of that business. And that’s what we’re doing here.

It should be — it should scare the industry. It certainly gives us pause, and that’s why we’ve been underwriting it very aggressively over the last three years.

Peter ZaffinoPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Dave. I think that I think we have time for one last question.

Operator

That last question will come from Tom Gallagher with Evercore.

Tom GallagherEvercore ISI — Analyst

Thanks. Peter, just a first question on the decision to pursue the IPO versus the private sale. Was it mainly because we’ve gotten so much improvement in tier, L&R public valuations that the gap narrowed where it wouldn’t give you as much of a benefit? But any color you can give us as to what drove that decision.

Peter ZaffinoPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Tom. That is certainly one component. We always said the base case was going to be the IPO of 19.9%. So when we had entertained some of the inbounds, you know, from terrific companies, we evaluated the relative merits of the sale compared to the minority IPO.

We took into account value creation, execution certainty, regulatory and rating agency implications, the delivery of life retirements, growth strategy over the long term where we’re going to be making the right investments to make sure we’re getting the value of the 80.1. It’s a great business. And so we want to make sure that we are investing in it. And so when we weighed all those merits, ultimately, we felt that, you know, an IPO was going to fulfill the value for our stakeholders and decided that that was the appropriate path for us.

Tom GallagherEvercore ISI — Analyst

OK. OK. Thanks. And then just a follow — just a follow up for Kevin on L&R.

I think — Peter, I think I heard you say you’re reiterating the 8-basis-point to 16-basis-point spread compression guide. I guess my question is interest rates have risen a pretty good amount. Would you change within the 8-basis-point to 16-basis-point band where you expect to operate? I think you used to say it was toward the high end of that.

Peter ZaffinoPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Kevin, do you want to finish?

Kevin HoganChief Executive Officer of Life and Retirement

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah — yes, Tom. We have moved from the high end of the eight to 16 to toward the middle to the lower end based on the recent improvement in the yields. You have to monitor obviously the combination of where credit spreads are versus where actual base rates are.

So it’s not all, you know, what we saw in the base rates. You have to look at the total reinvestment position.

Peter ZaffinoPresident and Chief Executive Officer

All right, great. Thanks, everyone, for joining us today, and have a great day.

Operator

[Operator signoff]

Duration: 67 minutes

Call participants:

Sabra PurtillHead of Investor Relations

Peter ZaffinoPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Mark LyonsChief Financial Officer

Elyse GreenspanWells Fargo Securities — Analyst

Brian MeredithUBS — Analyst

Paul NewsomePiper Sandler — Analyst

Kevin HoganChief Executive Officer of Life and Retirement

Ryan TunisAutonomous Research — Analyst

Dave McElroyExecutive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer

Meyer ShieldsKBW — Analyst

Tom GallagherEvercore ISI — Analyst

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This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis — even one of our own — helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.



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