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31 Jan 2012
London, 31 January 2012 -- In a new Industry Outlook published today, Moody's Investors
Service says that it has changed the outlook for the French property and
casualty (P&C) sector to stable from negative, reflecting insurers'
smooth and successful management of the cycle. However, Moody's
outlook for the French life insurance sector remains negative, reflecting
continued pressures on life insurers' profitability and the challenges
in safeguarding solvency whilst preserving their products' attractiveness
in the context of elevated asset risk.
Moody's current ratings on French P&C insurers and life insurers
already incorporate the trends reflected in the outlooks.
In France, as in many European countries, Moody's expects
that economic growth will remain sluggish and unemployment rates will
remain high. Although this does not have a direct material effect
on the credit strength of insurance companies, this environment
constrains both non-life and life insurance growth, as well
as French households' savings power.
PROPERTY AND CASUALTY SEGMENT
In the P&C segment, Moody's says that insurers will likely
report better results for 2011 after two challenging years. Improvements
mainly reflect price increases implemented since 2010, which have
now fully come into effect. Although 2011 results may be flattered
by a relatively low level of climatic events, the stable outlook
for the P&C sector reflects Moody's expectation that insurers
will continue to increase their tariffs and maintain their underwriting
discipline, which will stabilise results at satisfactory levels.
In the life segment, 2011 compared unfavorably with 2010,
with a significant decrease in savings inflows. Moody's believes
that 2012 will be a difficult year for French life insurance, due
to the ongoing elevated level of competition between insurers and banks
and a continued decrease in credited returns, which reduces the
attractiveness of insurance products. Beyond 2012, Moody's
believes that the reduced attractiveness of life products will likely
be a long-term feature of this market.
Lower revenues have had only a partially negative effect on insurers'
profitability at this stage. However, lower recurring investment
returns will also exert pressure on profitability, as will expected
higher impairments. In the long term, Moody's says
that the reduced attractiveness of life insurance savings will prompt
insurers to shift their focus away from pure asset accumulation products,
towards strengthening their competitive dynamics in "classic"
insurance risks. However, the rating agency says that the
current macro-environment is not conducive to generating alternative
revenues and earnings. For example, increased taxes and the
current economic crisis make some potential growth products less affordable
(e.g., health products), while reforms necessary
for the promotion of other products (e.g., long-term
care) have been delayed.
The increase in outflows reported in 2011 by life players also partly
represents a structural shift, but in Moody's view,
it does not threaten French insurers' liquidity at this stage.
However, as insurers continue to suffer from asset-quality
deterioration -- with the potential for investment losses
-- they could opt to share some of these losses with policyholders.
Moody's believes that the main short-term challenge for the
life sector is to strike a balance between safeguarding solvency and preserving
attractiveness for their products. The industry currently has various
resources at its disposal, but the leeway for manoeuvre is reducing.
Moody's report, entitled "French Insurance: Turnaround
of P&C results, continued pressures for the life sector",
is available on www.moodys.com
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Moody's: French P&C insurers' outlook changed to stable, while life insurance outlook remains negative
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