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AXIS Capital (AXS) Q1 Earnings Beat by a Whisker, Fall Y/Y

AXIS Capital Holdings Limited AXS reported first-quarter 2016 earnings per share of $1.07 beat the beating the Zacks Consensus Estimate by a penny. However, earnings plunged 20.7% year over year.

Increase in premiums written, along with a net favorable prior year reserve development, led to the earnings beat.

AXIS Capital reported net income 41 cents per share, down 73% year over year. Lower net investment income and higher net realized investment loss led to the deterioration.

Operational Update

Operating revenues of about $0.9 billion missed the Zacks Consensus Estimate by 3.82% and declined 5.8% year on year.

Total expense in the quarter increased 5.9% year over year to $842.9 million.

AXIS Capital’s underwriting income plunged 18.2% year over year to $98.9 million. Combined ratio declined by 180 basis points (bps) to 91.9%. Accident loss ratio was 63.1% compared with 62.9% in the prior year.

Segment Result

Insurance Segment: Gross premiums written increased 8% year over year and 10% on a constant currency basis. Higher premiums written in accident and health, property and aviation lines were partially offset by lower premiums in marine lines, which in turn were impacted by lower rates, timing difference and reduced new business opportunities.

Net premiums earned decreased 2% year over year due to reduction in marine lines business and increase in professional lines ceded reinsurance programs. Underwriting income soared 70% to $17 million and combined ratio improved 180 bps year over year. Net favorable prior year loss reserve development was $2 million as against $3 million in the last year.

Reinsurance Segment: Gross premiums written in the quarter surged 21% year over year to $1.3 billion, largely due to a higher number of premiums written on a multi-year basis, primarily in credit and surety and liability lines. Growth was partially offset by adverse foreign exchange movements.

Net premiums earned increased by 2% year over year. Underwriting income decreased 9.9% due to reduction in other insurance related income associated with weather and commodities derivatives business. Combined ratio deteriorated 60 bps year over year.

Financial Update

AXIS Capital exited the quarter with cash and cash equivalents of $0.78 billion, down 21.6% from the 2015-end level.

Cash flow used in operations declined to $14 million from $28 million in the prior year.

As of Mar 31, 2015, book value per share was $56.04, up 8% year over year.

Share Repurchase and Dividends update

The company repurchased 3.9 million shares worth $136 million in the quarter including 1.4 million common shares acquired through Accelerated Share Repurchased agreement. The company has $625 million remaining authorization under the common shares repurchase program which continues up to December 2016.The company declared dividend of 35 cents per common share.

Zacks Rank

AXIS Capital presently carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold).

Performance by Other P&C Insurers

The bottom line at RLI Corp. RLI and First American Financial FAF outpaced the respective Zacks Consensus Earnings Estimate in the first quarter, while The Travelers Companies, Inc.’s TRV earnings missed our expectation for the same period.

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