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AXIS Capital Holdings Limited (AXS - Analyst Report) reported first-quarter 2013 net operating income of $1.92 per share, which breezed past the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $1.19. Earnings surged 79% year over year. Net operating income of $227 million improved nearly 70% year over year.

Improvement in top line driven by higher premiums and net realized investment gains aided the solid numbers.

Including net realized investment gains of $41.1 million or 34 cents per share and foreign exchange gain of $34.3 million or 29 cents per share, AXIS Capital reported net income of $302.8 million or $2.55 per share. This compares favorably with a profit of $122 million or 96 cents per share in the prior-year quarter.

The year-ago quarter included net realized investment loss of $11.2 million or 9 cents per share, foreign exchange loss of $20.3 million or 16 cents per share and loss on repurchase of preferred shares of $4.6 million or 4 cents.

Quarterly Operational Performance

Gross premiums written by AXIS Capital in the quarter increased 15% year over year to $1.7 billion, aided by 15% improvement in reinsurance segment and 14% in insurance segment.

Net premiums earned in the reported quarter were $874 million, up 3.3% year over year.

Net investment income of AXIS Capital declined 6.1% year over year to $108.9 million, largely driven by lower reinvestment yields.

Total revenue of AXIS Capital grossed $1.03 billion in the quarter, improving 5.2% from the year-ago quarter. The top line comfortably surpassed the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $941 million.

Total expenses in the quarter were $706.3 million, escalating 15.8% year over year, largely due to higher general and administrative expenses.

Underwriting income of AXIS Capital increased nearly threefold year over year to $170.8 million in the quarter. Combined ratio improved 1180 basis points to 83% in the quarter.

Quarterly Segment Update

Insurance Segment: Gross premiums written in the quarter under review improved 14% year over year to $597 million, driven by better performance at accident & health line of business and property, professional lines and liability lines of business

Net premiums earned augmented 3% year over year to $402 million on the back of expansion in accident & health, and property businesses.

Underwriting income increased nearly fourfold to $41 million in the reported quarter.

Combined ratio for the quarter improved 760 basis points to 89.9%.

Reinsurance Segment: Gross premiums written in the quarter improved 15% year over year to $1.1 billion, largely driven by improved performance across all lines of businesses.

Net premiums earned improved 4% in the quarter to $472 million.

Underwriting income more than doubled to $130 million in the quarter.

Combined ratio improved 1610 basis points to 72.5% in the quarter.

Financial Position

AXIS Capital exited the quarter with cash and cash equivalents of $0.86 billion, up 0.7% from 2012 end level.

Total capitalization as of Mar 31, 2013, was $6.9 billion, including $1.0 billion of long-term debt and $0.5 billion of preferred equity.

Book value per share was $44.67 as of Mar 31, 2013, up 13% year over year.

Return on equity was 17.1% in the reported quarter up from 10.8% in the year-ago quarter.

Net cash flow from operations was $221 million, up 25.6% year over year.

Share Repurchase and Dividend

In the reported quarter, AXIS Capital spent $131 million to buyback 3.4 million shares. It includes 3 million shares from Trident II, L.P. and affiliated entities, who disposed of their remaining interest in AXIS Capital during the quarter. AXIS Capital is left with $634 million under its authorization.

Results at few other Property and Casualty Insurer

RLI Corporation (RLI - Analyst Report) reported first-quarter 2013 operating earnings of $1.04 per share. The result lagged the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $1.06 by 1.89% but surpassed the year-ago level of 96 cents by 8.3%.  The year-over-year improvement came on the back of better underwriting results at Casualty and Surety.

Everest Re Group Ltd. (RE - Analyst Report) reported first-quarter 2013 operating earnings of $5.88 per share, substantially beating the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $4.32 per share. Earnings were also up 31.3% year over year.

Montpelier Re Holdings Ltd. (MRH - Analyst Report) reported first-quarter 2013 operating income $1.18 per share, better than the Zacks Consensus Estimate of 89 cents. However, earnings were 4.1% lower than $1.23 per share in the year-ago quarter.

Zacks Rank

AXIS Capital currently carries a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy).

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