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“I am proud of Baloise’s performance in the first half of 2017. Profit went up by almost 34 per cent to a robust CHF 299 million. Our profitability continued to improve, and we achieved a combined ratio of below 100 per cent in all national subsidiaries. We entered the new strategic phase with a great deal of ambition, launching numerous product innovations and digitalisation initiatives in the first half of the year. Baloise is on the right track, and I’m looking forward to the remaining months of this year,” said Gert De Winter, group CEO, commenting on Baloise’s financial results for the first half of 2017.
Overview of operating performance
Profit and business volume
Baloise generated a profit of CHF 298.6 million for the first half of 2017. One of the main reasons for this increase of 33.8 per cent compared with the first half of 2016 was the greatly improved combined ratio in the non-life business, which had been adversely affected by one-off additions to reserves in Germany in the prior-year period. In the life business too, the level of interest rates resulted in less strengthening of reserves compared to the first half of 2016. Despite the challenging environment and the sale of a closed life insurance portfolio in Germany, the Baloise Group’s business volume continued to grow. At CHF 5,671.0 million, it was 0.8 per cent larger than in the prior-year period. This increase was driven primarily by the target segments, i.e. non-life business and investment-type premiums.
Non-life and life business
The volume of non-life business expanded by 1.0 per cent to CHF 2,149.5 million, despite the negative effects of exchange rates. Adjusted for currency effects, the increase was 1.9 per cent. The excellent net combined ratio of 89.7 per cent for non-life business reflected the strong improvement in profitability, falling by 2.8 percentage points year on year. In all Baloise companies, the net combined ratio for the six-month period was below 100 per cent.
Profit before taxes and borrowing costs (EBIT) in the life business came to CHF 114.8 million (H1 2016: CHF 45.5 million). The main reason for this improvement was more stable interest rates, which resulted in a significant reduction in the strengthening of reserves compared with the first half of last year. Investment-type premiums were up by 2.9 per cent. The premium volume in traditional life insurance business was virtually unchanged. In the German life insurance business, the sale of the closed life insurance portfolio of the German branch of Baloise Life Ltd to the Frankfurter Leben Group is having an adverse impact on growth. The new business margin in the life business advanced to 24.8 per cent (H1 2016:7.3 per cent), largely because of greatly improved margins in Switzerland, Belgium, and Luxembourg. In Germany, the new business margin is already at a very good level.
Banking & Asset Management
Profit before taxes and borrowing costs (EBIT) in the banking business was down by around a quarter, or CHF 11.6 million, to CHF 41.9 million. This corresponds to the average level in recent years, whereas the figure for the prior-year period had been bolstered by a non-recurring item arising from changes to the pension scheme at Baloise Bank SoBa. The main driving forces in this division are traditionally Baloise Asset Management, whose contribution increased year on year, and Baloise Bank SoBa.
Consolidated equity at the end of the first half of the year stood at CHF 5,892.0 million and was therefore 2.0 per cent higher than at the end of last year (31 December 2016: CHF 5,773.7 million). Rating agency Standard & Poor’s reaffirmed Baloise’s credit rating of ‘A’ with a stable outlook this year, underlining the Company’s healthy capitalisation. Separate credit ratings for the subsidiaries of Baloise have also been issued for the first time. Baloise Belgium NV achieved ‘A’ with a stable outlook, while the German company Basler Sachversicherungs-AG was awarded ‘A-’ with a stable outlook. Under the share buy-back programme announced in the spring, around 8 per cent of up to three million shares have been repurchased since April 2017.
Performance and trends in the segments
The non-life business (indemnity and personal insurance) generated EBIT of CHF 261.2 million (H1 2016: CHF 208.4 million), a year-on-year increase of 25.3 per cent. It should be noted that the one-off strengthening of reserves at Basler Germany had depressed EBIT significantly in the prior-year period. The net combined ratio improved to a very good 89.7 per cent (H1 2016:92.5 per cent). The reasons for this included not only the improvement in Germany but also the very favourable level of claims incurred in the first half of the year and the significant decrease in large claims incurred compared with the first half of 2016. Moreover, the profit on claims reserves was up year on year. The business volume was CHF 2,149.5 million, a rise of 1.0 per cent compared with the corresponding period of 2016 that was achieved despite the negative effect of exchange rates. Non-life business generated growth in all markets.
The life insurance business generated EBIT of CHF 114.8 million (H1 2016: CHF 45.5 million). The main reason for this change was the reduced strengthening of reserves in the life business owing to the level of interest rates. Furthermore, the volume of life business, including investment-type premiums, was up slightly compared with the prior-year period at CHF 3,521.5 million (H1 2016: CHF 3,495.6 million). The group-wide growth of 2.9 per cent in investment-type premiums, which rose particularly strongly in Luxembourg (by 13.7 per cent), had a positive impact. Adjusted for exchange-rate effects, the group’s growth would have been an impressive 4.3 per cent. The further increase in investment-type premiums reflects the strategic focus on modern life products that are not capital-intensive. The sale of the life insurance portfolio of the German branches of Baloise Life Ltd to the Frankfurter Leben Group had an adverse impact on growth. The better business mix and the level of interest rates had a positive influence on the new business margin, which improved to 24.8 per cent (H1 2016:7.3 per cent).
Banking & Asset Management
The banking business achieved a healthy profit for the half-year period that was on a par with recent years, generating EBIT of CHF 41.9 million (H1 2016: CHF 53.5 million). In the first half of 2016, this figure had been boosted by a non-recurring item arising from a change in the pension scheme at Baloise Bank SoBa. Once again, Baloise Asset Management and Baloise Bank SoBa were the main drivers of this result. Baloise Asset Management’s contribution improved by 2.2 per cent. Baloise Bank SoBa also achieved a good result if the positive non-recurring effect in the prior-year period resulting from the pension scheme changes is disregarded. The profit in the brokerage business and the very favourable level of credit risk contributed to the bank’s profit. The ongoing phase of low interest rates resulted in a small decrease in Baloise Bank SoBa’s net interest income.
Gains on investments amounted to CHF 769.9 million, which was below the level of CHF 930.4 million achieved in the prior-year period. The challenging interest rate environment caused recurring income to fall to CHF 670.7 million (H1 2016: CHF 730.4 million), although around CHF 28.0 million of this decrease was attributable to the transfer of the closed portfolio of the German branch of Baloise Life Ltd to the Frankfurter Leben Group. As reinvestment yields on Swiss bonds remained unattractive, Baloise continued to build up tangible assets offering regular income and currency-hedged investments denominated in US dollars during the reporting period.
The realised gains and losses declined by CHF 142.7 million year on year. Thanks to the uptrend in the equity markets, the gross impairment losses that had to be recognised on financial assets were lower at CHF 20.6 million (H1 2016: CHF 68.4 million). Book gains on real estate again made a positive contribution to earnings, but to a much lesser extent than in the prior-year period. Despite a weaker US dollar and a resurgent euro from the perspective of a Swiss investor, the effect of exchange rates on earnings was low. This was a consequence of the high proportion of currency hedging on investments through the group. The return on insurance assets was 1.4 per cent (H1 2016:1.8 per cent).
EBIT for the Luxembourg business rose substantially to reach CHF 13.9 million (H1 2016: CHF 10.3 million). The total volume of business again increased markedly, coming in at CHF 903.4 million (H1 2016: CHF 810.4 million). Growth in the non-life business held steady. The net combined ratio went up by 2.5 percentage points to 89.7 per cent (H1 2016:87.2 per cent). This was due to losses on claims reserves, whereas the prior-year period had been exceptionally good. These losses can mainly by explained by the less favourable settlement of past large claims. In the life business, traditional business contracted by 5.5 per cent while investment-type premiums achieved another strong increase of 13.7 per cent. Demand primarily stemmed from France and Portugal. By contrast, the Italian market accounted for the majority of demand for products from Liechtenstein.
Full details of the financial results for the first half of 2017 can be found at baloise.com.
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