Reasons to be cheerful even after year of biblical disasters
Published 04/03/2010 | 05:00
THE previous year resembles some sort of Old Testament story for FBD, the farming-minded insurer which has been caught up in a financial storm, a snow storm and some of the worst flooding we've seen in a generation.
Despite these natural and manmade upsets, FBD looks to be in good shape and is heading into 2010 with an unusual degree of optimism for an Irish company.
Some of that optimism is bad news for businesses and individuals outside the insurance industry.
FBD and its rivals appear confident that they are in a good position to charge customers more.
FBD predicts it will be able to jack up home insurance by close to 10pc this year while car insurance will rise 3pc. The industry average could be double that.
Claims are expected to fall over the same period. Chief executive Andrew Langford appears to be confident that this will be enough to return FBD to profit.
That's good news for shareholders but bad news for the rest of us.
The other area where FBD is markedly optimistic is market share. The company has recently become the nation's second largest insurer but is still lamentably under-represented in the capital where it has just over 5pc of market share.
Mr Langford's intention to increase that market share by a single percentage point does not appear overly ambitious for a company winning 13pc of new premiums in the capital and underlines just how much scope there is for FBD to strengthen its No 2 position.
All is not rosy in FBD's garden, however. The company is joined at the hip with the Irish economy which is rather like being manacled to a manic depressive right now.
While the collapse in economic growth is slowing, it will be a very long time before people have to insure their houses at 2007 values.
Much the same can be said of the Mercs and tractors which have lost much of their value lately and won't require as much cover in future. FBD is also invested in the hotel sector with four hotels, including the luxury Faithlegg in Co Waterford and the Temple Bar Hotel in the centre of Dublin.
This is clearly not a good sector to be in right now and the value of those assets was written down by 29pc, or €34.4m, last year.
Still, management appears to be surprisingly good at looking after these property assets judging by their success in off-loading flats in Spain during one of the worst years ever for Spanish property.
The basic truth for FBD is that it operates a tidy franchise which is not recession-proof but can weather many storms because people require insurance in good times and in bad. It's not a bad place to be right now.