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Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. (HIG - Analyst Report) reported fourth-quarter 2012 operating earnings of $265 million or 54 cents per share, significantly lagging the Zacks Consensus Estimate of 30 cents. Operating earnings also lagged the year-ago earnings of $301 million or 61 cents per share.

Higher catastrophe losses in the Property & Casualty segment due to Hurricane Sandy was the chief reason for the decline in earnings, partially offset by improvements in the Group Benefits, Talcott Resolution and Corporate segments.

Hartford’s net loss in the reported quarter was $46 million or 13 cents per share, compared with net income of $118 million or 23 cents per share in the comparable quarter last year.

Results for the reported quarter include post-tax catastrophe loss of $218 million, unfavorable prior-year development of $6 million and tax benefits of $17 million related to the retiree prescription drug benefits.

The year-over-year decline in net results was attributable to increased catastrophe losses, primarily due to Hurricane Sandy, restructuring and other costs, hedging losses on runoff annuity blocks and higher net realized capital losses as a result of the divestiture of the Retirement Plans and Individual Life businesses.

Total revenue for the reported quarter stood at $7.74 billion, increasing from $5.64 billion in the year-ago quarter. Total revenue surpassed the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $5.61 billion.

Segment Results

Hartford reorganized its reporting segments in the fourth quarter of 2012. As a result, the company now consists of Property & Casualty (P&C), Group Benefits, Mutual Funds, Talcott Resolution and Corporate segments.

Property & Casualty: This segment covers the P&C Commercial, Consumer Markets and P&C Other businesses. The segment generated core earnings of $54 million, down 58% from $130 million in the fourth quarter of 2012. P&C reported net income of $80 million in the reported quarter, down 42% from $137 million in the year-ago period.

P&C written premiums declined 1% over the year-ago quarter level to $2.31 billion. The combined ratio, excluding catastrophes and prior-year development, improved to 95.4 from 98.2 in the prior-year quarter.

Investment income witnessed a 3% rise to $301 million, while underwriting loss widened to $229 million from $67 million in the year-ago quarter. The segment witnessed catastrophe loss of $335 million, compared with $14 million in the fourth quarter of 2011.

Meanwhile, combined ratio deteriorated to 109.2 from 102.7 in the year-ago quarter.

Group Benefits: This segment generated core earnings of $39 million in the reported quarter, surging 129% from $17 million in the year-ago quarter due to improved results in the group long-term disability business, partially offset by a year-over-year decline in group life mortality results. Net income came in at $46 million, increasing from $15 million in the prior-year quarter, driven by higher core earnings and realized capital gains.

Group Benefits’ fully insured premiums declined 8% to $915 million from $995 million in the comparable quarter of 2011. Meanwhile, loss ratio improved to 77.0% from 80.5% in the year-ago quarter.

Mutual Funds: Core earnings declined 20% to $16 million from $20 million in the prior-year quarter. Net income of this segment declined 21% to $15 million from $19 million in the prior-year. Asset under management was $87.6 billion as of Dec 31, 2012, decreasing marginally from $85.5 billion as of Dec 31, 2011.

Talcott Resolution: Hartford established this segment to cover the legacy Wealth Management runoff and sold businesses, including U.S. Annuity, International Annuity, Institutional, Private Placement Life Insurance, and the former Individual Life and Retirement Plans businesses.

Talcott Resolution’s core earnings came in at $211 million, up 7% from $197 million in the forth quarter of 2011. The segment reported net loss of $148 million, compared with net income of $37 million in the year-ago quarter.

Corporate: This segment’s core loss amounted to $55 million, shrinking 13% from $63 million incurred in the prior-year quarter due to improved investment income and reduced interest expenses due to the debt refinancing in the second quarter of 2012. Corporate segment’s net loss was reported at $39 million, contracting from $90 million in the year-ago quarter.

Restructuring and other costs amounted to $43 million, surging from $7 million in the fourth quarter of 2011. Interest expenses declined 12% to $109 million from $124 million in the year-ago quarter.

Full Year Results

For full-year 2012, Hartford’s core earnings came in at $1.4 billion or $2.88 per share, beating the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $2.59. Results also surpassed the prior-year earnings of $1.1 billion or $2.24 per share.

Hartford reported net income of $350 million or 66 cents per share, declining from $712 million or $1.40 per share in 2011. Total revenue for 2012 was $26.41 billion, improving from $21.86 billion in 2011.

Gross losses due to Hurricane Sandy amounted to $370 million and net losses after reinsurance amounted to $350 million.

Financial Update

Hartford's total invested assets, excluding trading securities, were $105.3 billion on Dec 31, 2012, compared with $104.4 billion on Dec 31, 2011. Net investment income, excluding trading securities, for the reported quarter was about $1.04 billion, up 4% year over year.

Shareholders’ equity stood at $22.8 billion as of Dec 31, 2012, up 6% from $21.5 billion as of Dec 31, 2011. Book value per share improved to $46.59 as of Dec 31, 2012 from $44.31 as of Dec 31, 2011. Excluding accumulated other comprehensive income (AOCI), Hartford’s book value decreased to $40.79 per share as of Dec 31, 2012 from $41.73 per share as of Dec 31, 2011.

Capital Management Plans

Hartford reviewed its capital management plans with the Connecticut Insurance Department and received the approval for an extraordinary dividend of $1.2 billion from its Conn.-based life insurance companies, which is expected to be paid in the first quarter of 2013.

The company also expects to dissolve its Vermont life reinsurance captive in the first quarter of 2013, which should release a surplus capital of about $300 million to the holding company.

Hartford also plans to reduce its outstanding debt by $1 billion, including debt worth $520 million due in 2013 and 2014. Additionally, the board authorized a $500 million share repurchase program, which will expire in 2014-end.

Outlook for 2013

Hartford expects core earnings in the range of $1.38–$1.48 billion in 2013. Combined ratio, excluding catastrophes and prior-year development, for the P&C Commercial business is expected to range between 92.5–95.5, and that for the Commercial markets business is expected to stay in the range of 89.5–92.5. Catastrophe loss ratio is expected to be around 4.8%, while Group Benefits loss ratio is expected to range within 77–80.

Core earnings in the Group Benefits segment are expected to grow in the mid to high teens over $101 million in 2012. Talcott Resolution’s core earnings are projected to decline $260–$280 million from $827 million in 2012.

Zacks Rank

Hartford carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). Other multi-line insurers worth considering are Ageas SA/NV (AGESY), Assured Guaranty Ltd. (AGO - Snapshot Report) and Radian Group Inc. (RDN - Snapshot Report). All these companies carry a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy).

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