American Safety Insurance Holdings 10-K 2009
Documents found in this filing:
SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20549
ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d)
OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
AMERICAN SAFETY INSURANCE HOLDINGS, LTD.
(Exact name of registrant as specified in its charter)
Registrant’s telephone number: (441) 296-8560
Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:
Securities to be registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act: None
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well known seasoned issuer as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act. Yes ___No _X_
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or 15(d) of the Act. Yes____No X
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant: (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days. YesX No ___
Indicate by check mark if disclosure of delinquent filers pursuant to Item 405 of Regulation S-K is not contained herein, and will not be contained, to the best of registrant’s knowledge, in definitive proxy or information statements incorporated by reference in Part III of this Form 10-K or any amendment to this Form 10-K. _____
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer or a non-accelerated filer.
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Act).
The aggregate market value of registrant’s voting common stock held by non-affiliates based upon the closing sales price as reported by the New York Stock Exchange as of June 30, 2008 was $150,911,802.
The number of shares of registrant’s common stock outstanding on March 11, 2009 was 10,313,804.
Documents Incorporated by Reference: Part III of this Form 10-K incorporates by reference certain information from Registrant’s Proxy Statement for the 2009 Annual General Meeting of the Shareholders (the “2009 Proxy Statement”).
[The Remainder of this Page Intentionally Left Blank]
AMERICAN SAFETY INSURANCE HOLDINGS, LTD.
Table of Contents
In this Report,the terms “we,” “our,” “us,” “Company” and “American Safety Insurance” refer to American Safety Insurance Holdings, Ltd. and, unless the context requires otherwise, includes our subsidiaries and non-subsidiary affiliates.
We maintain a web site at www.amsafety.com that contains additional information regarding the Company. Under the caption “Investor Relations - SEC Filings” on our website, we provide access, free of charge, to our filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”), including Forms 3, 4 and 5 filed by our officers and directors as soon as reasonably practical after electronically filing such material with the SEC.
Cautionary Statement Regarding Forward-looking Statements
This Annual Report on Form 10-K contains forward-looking statements within the meaning of the U.S. federal securities laws. We intend these forward-looking statements to be covered by the safe harbor provisions for forward-looking statements in the United States securities laws. In some cases, these statements can be identified by the use of forward-looking words such as “may”, “should”, “could”, “anticipate”, “estimate”, “expect”, “plan”, “believe”, “predict”, “potential”, and “intend”. Forward-looking statements contained in this report include information regarding our expectations with respect to pricing and other market conditions, our growth prospects, the amount of our acquisition costs, the amount of our net losses and loss reserves, the projected amount of our capital expenditures, managing interest rate risks, valuations of potential interest rate shifts and measurements of potential losses in fair market values of our investment portfolio. Forward-looking statements only reflect our expectations and are not guarantees of performance. These statements involve risks, uncertainties and assumptions. Actual events or results may differ materially from our expectations. Important factors that could cause actual events or results to be materially different from our expectations include (1) actual claims exceeding our loss reserves, (2) the failure of any of the loss limitation methods we employ, (3) the effects of emerging claims and coverage issues, (4) inability to collect reinsurance recoverables, (5) the loss of one or more key executives, (6) a decline in our ratings with rating agencies, (7) loss of business provided to us by our major brokers, (8) changes in governmental regulations or tax laws, (9) increased competition, (10) general economic conditions, (11) changes in the political environment of certain countries in which we operate or underwrite business, and (12) the other matters set fort under Item 1A, “Risk Factors” included in this report. We undertake no obligation to update or revise publicly any forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise.
Who We Are
We are a Bermuda-based specialty insurance and reinsurance company that provides customized products and solutions to small and medium-sized businesses in industries that we believe are underserved by the standard market. For over twenty years we have developed specialized coverages and alternative risk transfer products not generally available to our customers in the standard market because of the unique characteristics of the risks involved and the associated needs of the insureds. We specialize in underwriting these products for insureds with certain environmental, products liability, construction, healthcare and property risks, as well as developing programs for other specialty classes of risks and providing third party reinsurance. See Part II – Other Information, Item 1A for risks facing the Company.
We were formed in 1986 as a captive insurance company in Bermuda and began our operations providing insurance solutions to environmental remediation businesses in the U.S. at a time when insurance coverage for these risks was virtually unavailable in the standard market. Since then, we have continued to identify opportunities in other industry sectors underserved by the standard carriers where we believe we can achieve favorable returns on equity. We capitalize on these opportunities by (i) leveraging our strong
relationships with agents and brokers, which we refer to as producers, who we believe have a recognized commitment to the specialty market, (ii) charging adequate premium for the risks we underwrite and the services we offer due to the limited availability of coverages for these risks and (iii) mitigating our loss exposure through customized policy terms, specialized underwriting and proactive loss control and claims management.
In Bermuda, we assume third party and intercompany reinsurance premiums through our reinsurance subsidiary, American Safety Reinsurance, Ltd. (“American Safety Re”). American Safety Assurance, Ltd. (“American Safety Assurance”) is our Bermuda-based segregated account captive, which serves as a risk sharing vehicle for program managers and insureds by allowing them to assume a portion of their underwriting risks. During 2007, we acquired Ordinance Holdings, Limited, a Bermuda corporation, further diversifying our operations to provide actuarial consulting and brokerage services. Our Bermuda subsidiaries also facilitate the allocation of risk among our insurance subsidiaries and provide us with greater flexibility in managing our capital.
In the U.S. we insure and place risks through our two insurance subsidiaries, American Safety Casualty Insurance Company (“American Safety Casualty”) and American Safety Indemnity Company (“American Safety Indemnity”), as well as through American Safety Assurance (Vermont), Inc. (“ASA(VT))”, a sponsored captive insurance company, and American Safety Risk Retention Group, Inc. (“American Safety RRG”), a non-subsidiary affiliate that is a variable interest entity consolidated in our financial statements in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). The Company acquired the LTC Group of companies in February, 2008, now known as ASI Healthcare, which provides insurance and risk management solutions for the long-term care industry. Our subsidiaries, American Safety Insurance Services, Inc. (“ASI Services”) and American Safety Administrative Services, Inc. (“ASAS”) provide a range of insurance management and administrative services for our operations and our subsidiary American Safety Claims Services, Inc. (“ASCS”) provides claims services for American Safety Casualty, American Safety Indemnity and American Safety RRG.
We actively participate in the excess and surplus lines (“E&S”), the alternative risk transfer (“ART”) and assumed reinsurance markets.
Excess and Surplus Lines
Excess and surplus lines insurers provide coverage for difficult-to-place risks that do not fit the underwriting criteria of insurance companies operating in the standard insurance market. In the standard insurance market, policies must be written by insurance companies that are licensed to transact business as admitted carriers by the state insurance regulators in the state in which the policy is issued. Standard insurance market policy rates and forms are highly regulated and coverages are largely uniform. In contrast, excess and surplus lines insurers are less restricted by these rate and form filing regulations, thereby providing them with more flexibility over the premiums they can charge and the policy terms and conditions they can offer.
Included in our description of the excess and surplus lines market is the specialty admitted market. Insurance carriers operating in the specialty admitted market underwrite complex risks similar to excess and surplus lines carriers, but are licensed by the insurance regulators in the states in which they operate as admitted insurance companies. Although they are admitted in the jurisdictions in which they operate, specialty admitted carriers are typically less restricted by policy rate and form regulations than standard admitted carriers due to the complexity of the risks being underwritten, the absence of standard market coverage, or the nature of the coverages provided. Some insureds with complex insurance needs require coverage from an admitted insurance company due to regulatory, legal, marketing or other factors. We currently underwrite specialty admitted policies in our environmental business line in California, Illinois,
New Jersey and Texas. We also write a small portion of our program business on a specialty admitted basis. All of our surety bonds are written on an admitted basis in accordance with standard industry practice.
The property and casualty insurance industry has historically been a cyclical industry consisting of both “hard market” periods and “soft market” periods. The excess and surplus lines market historically has tended to move in response to the underwriting cycles in the standard insurance market. Hard market periods are characterized by shortages of underwriting capacity, limited availability of capital, less competition and higher premium rates. Typically, during hard markets, as rates increase and coverage terms become more restrictive, business shifts from the standard insurance market to the excess and surplus lines market as standard insurance market carriers rely on traditional underwriting techniques and focus on their core business lines. In soft markets, business shifts from the excess and surplus lines market to the standard insurance market as standard insurance market carriers tend to loosen underwriting standards and seek to expand market share by moving into business lines traditionally characterized as “surplus lines.”
During the past five years, we believe the property and casualty insurance market has softened significantly and the number of insurers competing for premium in the excess and surplus lines market has increased. These competitors include several start-up companies as well as larger standard market insurers looking to capture market share by moving from the admitted market to the excess and surplus lines market. This increased competition has caused rates to decline in targeted markets, in some cases, significantly. Despite this softening trend, we believe there are profitable business opportunities from which we can benefit, resulting from our diversification into new geographic locations and lines of business.
Alternative Risk Transfer
The ART market, provides insurance, reinsurance and risk management products for insureds who want more control over the claims administration process, who pay high insurance premiums or are unable to find adequate insurance coverage. The ART market originated during the 1980’s when obtaining various types of commercial liability insurance coverages was difficult for businesses in certain industries due to the nature of their operations or the industries in which they operated. To meet the risk management or insurance needs of these businesses new alternative risk transfer solutions were developed, such as captive insurance companies and risk retention groups. Captive insurance companies are risk sharing vehicles, the assets of which are contributed by one interest or a group of related interests so as to provide insurance coverage for their business operations. Risk retention groups are companies owned by their insureds that, while being licensed only in the state of their formation, are able to write insurance in all states through the Federal Liability Risk Retention Act. These alternative risk transfer arrangements blend risk transfer and risk retention mechanisms and, along with self-insurance, form the ART market.
The ART market grew substantially through 2006 with the creation of additional captives and risk retention groups. According to A.M. Best, net premiums written in the ART market grew approximately 47% between 2000 and 2006, for a cumulative annual growth rate (“CAGR”) of 8%. During this time, the ART market expanded to include a wider range of risk sharing vehicles, and benefited from more favorable regulation in certain jurisdictions in the U.S. The ART market has responded effectively to the strategic needs of insureds for better financial management, improved claims handling, more effective risk management, customized insurance programs and access to reinsurance markets. However, in 2007 net premiums written in the ART market fell 15% from 2006. The five year change was 3.9% and the five year CAGR was down to 1%.
The ART market has traditionally been inversely correlated to the standard market’s underwriting cycle, expanding in hard market periods and retracting in soft market periods. We believe, however, that this correlation has become less meaningful in recent years as ART solutions have become more accessible and better managed, evidenced by a sharp increase in the number of captive formations and more domestic and offshore domiciles, such as Vermont and Bermuda, offering regulatory environments conducive to captive formations and operations. While this continued growth has contributed to the competitive environment in
the ART market, customers in certain industries continue to experience difficulty obtaining adequate and affordable coverages that meet their needs in the non-ART markets.
Reinsurance is an arrangement in which the reinsurer agrees to indemnify an insurance or reinsurance company, known as the ceding company, against all or a portion of the insurance risks underwritten by the ceding company under one or more reinsurance contracts. Reinsurance can provide a ceding company with several benefits, including a reduction in net liability on individual risks or classes of risks, and catastrophe protection from large or multiple losses. Reinsurance also provides a ceding company with additional underwriting capacity by permitting it to accept larger risks. Reinsurance, however, does not discharge the ceding company from its liability to policyholders. Rather, reinsurance serves to indemnify a ceding company for losses payable by the ceding company to its policyholders.
During soft insurance markets, ceding companies tend to retain more of their risk, resulting in less premium ceded to reinsurers. As this trend continues, the reinsurers reduce rates to attract ceding companies. Although there has been increased competition and pricing pressure, we have been able to identify opportunities in attractively priced areas primarily with small specialty insurers, captives, risk retention groups and program managers.
Our core product segments are excess and surplus lines, alternative risk transfer and assumed reinsurance:
Excess and Surplus Lines. We provide the following excess and surplus lines products:
The environmental risks we underwrite are as follows:
impairment liability for the year ended December 31, 2008 totaled $5.3 million, or 11.0% of total environmental gross premiums written.
The construction risks we underwrite include:
Alternative Risk Transfer. We provide the following alternative risk transfer products:
We differentiate ourselves from our program competitors primarily in two ways. First, we typically require the underwriters of the business and the program managers to share in the risk and profits of the business they produce by assuming a portion of the premiums and the losses on the coverage being offered, which is secured by collateral. Our Bermuda segregated account captive, American Safety Assurance, or our Vermont sponsored captive, ASA(VT), can be utilized to facilitate the risk sharing position of the program manager by providing a vehicle for the program manager to collateralize its portion of the risk. The requirement to share a portion of the risk encourages the program manager to focus on underwriting profitability rather than solely on the production of commission income through premium volume. Second, we choose to focus on smaller programs where there are fewer competitors, thereby allowing us to obtain terms and conditions more favorable to us. In 2008 we had gross premiums written of $79.2 million and net premiums written of $43.8 million in our specialty programs business line, representing 30.4% and 24.4% of our total gross and net premiums written, respectively. We also earn fee income on the specialty program business that we write.
defense costs. We write fully funded general and professional liability policies for businesses operating primarily in the healthcare and construction industries. During 2008, we generated $1.7 million in fees from fully funded business.
In 2007 the Company began to write assumed reinsurance through our subsidiary, American Safety Re, focusing on casualty reinsurance for risk retention groups, captives and small specialty insurance companies. During 2008, the Company’s assumed reinsurance gross premiums written increased by 250% compared to 2007. The increase was attributable to the Company’s focus on growing assumed reinsurance premiums by adding underwriting staff, including a Chief Underwriting Officer, and the full year impact of 2007 headcount additions. Assumed reinsurance premium written in 2008 totaled $53.0 million, or 20.4% of total gross premiums written, and $45.9 million, or 25.5% of net written premium. Treaties entered into during 2008 included medical malpractice, professional liability for accountants and lawyers, commercial auto liability, general liability for small grocery stores and assisted living facilities, and small participations in construction and property catastrophe treaties. For the year ended December 31, 2008, gross premiums written as a percentage of total assumed reinsurance gross premiums written were 1.6%, 20.6% and 77.8% for facultative, excess of loss and quota share, respectively.
When certain business lines do not meet our profit or production expectations, we take corrective actions, which may include exiting those business lines. When we exit a business line, we no longer renew or write any new policies in that business line, although we do continue to service existing policies until they expire and administer any claims associated with those policies. The business lines we have exited since 2002 are:
The property and casualty insurance and reinsurance markets are highly competitive with respect to a number of factors, including overall financial strength of a given carrier, ratings of companies by rating agencies, premium rates, policy terms and conditions, services offered, reputation and commission rates. We believe competition in the sectors of the market we target is fragmented and not dominated by one or more competitors. We frequently encounter competition from other companies that insure or reinsure risks in business lines that may encompass the specialty markets in which we operate, as well as from standard insurance carriers as they try to gain market share. The companies with which we compete vary by the industries we target and the types of coverage we offer.
We believe our “A” (Excellent) rating from A.M. Best, focus on underserved markets, strong relationships with producers and versatile corporate structure are competitive advantages for us and are important factors in providing opportunities for growth.
On October 29, 2008, A.M. Best, the most widely recognized insurance and reinsurance company rating agency, once again affirmed its rating of “A” (Excellent) with a stable outlook on a group basis of American Safety Insurance, including our Bermuda reinsurance subsidiary, our two U.S. insurance subsidiaries, and our U.S. non-subsidiary risk retention group affiliate. An “A” (Excellent) rating is the third highest of fifteen ratings assigned by A.M. Best to companies that have, in the opinion of A.M. Best, an excellent ability to meet their ongoing obligations to policyholders.
Some policyholders are required to obtain insurance coverage from insurance companies that have an “A-” (Excellent) or higher rating from A.M. Best. Additionally, many producers are prohibited from placing insurance or reinsurance with companies that are rated below “A-” (Excellent) by A.M. Best. A.M. Best assigns ratings that represent an independent opinion of a company’s ability to meet its obligations to policyholders that is of concern primarily to policyholders and producers, and its rating and outlook should not be considered an investment recommendation.
We have also been assigned a financial size category of Class VIII by A.M. Best. A financial size category of Class VIII is assigned by A.M. Best to companies with adjusted policyholder surplus of $100 million to $250 million, which, on a statutory basis of accounting, is the amount remaining after all liabilities, including loss reserves, are subtracted from all admitted assets.
The specific distribution channels we use vary by business line. We market our excess and surplus products primarily through approximately 250 producers in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Our ART specialty program products are distributed through direct solicitation of program managers with established underwriting expertise in a specialty program area by dedicated business development professionals employed by ASI Services, Inc. In addition, reinsurance intermediaries and brokers serve as a distribution source of program business. Our fully funded and partially funded products are marketed primarily through retail brokers, particularly those with a sophisticated understanding of the ART market. Our assumed reinsurance subsidiary works through established reinsurance brokers in Bermuda, the United States and the United Kingdom. As of December 31, 2008, the Company has no individual producers that generate greater than 10% of gross premiums written.
We utilize two primary information processing systems that are an integral part of our operations. We seek to improve the efficiency of our operations by integrating data throughout the organization and by moving data entry functions closer to the source of the information by providing the producers of our environmental line access to our systems via the Internet. ProStar is an online electronic submission, rating and quoting system used to process new and renewal business submissions for smaller businesses with environmental risks. We also have integrated software packages that address underwriting, premium accounting, claims and forms processing functions and are a secure and consolidated collection of primary data that feeds a data warehouse for management reporting and analysis. Our information technology department consists of twenty-six full-time employees and is supported by third-party vendors who provide support our existing technology platform. We continue to review and reinvest in technology to improve our
competitiveness and operational efficiency. Ultimately, we believe these investments in technology will enable us to increase premium volume without requiring significant additional staff.
Excess and Surplus Lines
Our underwriting staff handles the insurance underwriting functions for all excess and surplus lines products, with specific underwriting authority related to the experience and knowledge level of each underwriter. Risks that are perceived to be more difficult and complex are underwritten by experienced staff and reviewed by management. The principal factors we use for underwriting these risks include the professional experience of the insured, its operating history, its loss history and, in the case of renewals, its demonstrated commitment to effective loss control and risk management practices.
Most of our senior underwriters have approximately 20 years of underwriting experience and in excess of ten years of underwriting experience in the specialty areas we target. We differentiate ourselves from other companies by individually underwriting and pricing each risk, as opposed to the general classification pricing practices which are often performed by larger insurance companies. We seek to instill a culture of underwriting profitability over premium volume and our underwriters’ incentive compensation is based on underwriting profits rather than premium growth. We also enforce an internal quality control standard through periodic audits of underwriter files. Underwriters meet monthly to discuss the status of renewal business with our claims personnel, who adjust claims reported under our policies.
An important part of the underwriting and risk control process is the use of customized policy forms and contract wording to limit our ultimate exposure on many of the specialty risks we insure and to adequately respond to evolving claims trends in our core product lines. These trends are often identified through monthly meetings among claims, loss control, actuarial and underwriting personnel. Policy terms and conditions are crafted in cooperation with legal counsel to limit or restrict coverage for certain high exposure risks. Standard, or admitted, carriers do not have the same flexibility to control policy language because they are more heavily regulated by the individual states in which they operate, and are generally required to use standard insurance forms previously approved by state regulators and that are broader in coverage.
Alternative Risk Transfer
We outsource the underwriting and program administration duties for specialty programs to program managers with established underwriting expertise in the specialty program area. We perform due diligence which involves detailed reviews of underwriting, policy pricing practices, claims handling, management expertise, information systems and distribution networks on every new program we develop. Based on the results of the due diligence, underwriting guidelines are developed that are specific to each program, and must be adhered to by program managers. We also perform an actuarial analysis on each program, to ensure that the business projections meet our profitability requirements, as well as to determine the appropriate level of risk participation by us and the program manager. After the program is implemented, we utilize our internal underwriting, claims, and audit personnel to conduct audits of each program’s underwriting, actuarial, claim handling and insurance processing functions to ensure adherence to established guidelines and to assess the long-term profit potential of the program.
American Safety Re in Bermuda has a professional staff that includes experienced actuaries and underwriters who selectively develop third party assumed reinsurance business. The Bermuda staff conducts a review of each reinsurance opportunity to determine whether or not it meets the Company’s underwriting and profitability standards. The review includes an assessment of the underwriting experience
of the ceding company, risk management controls in place, the nature of the business to be ceded and an actuarial analysis. Coverage terms are proposed on opportunities that meet our underwriting standards and are crafted in a manner that we believe will generate an adequate return on our capital at risk. The Bermuda staff also utilizes third parties to perform underwriting and claims audits as deemed necessary to further assess the underwriting and claims practices of the ceding company.
Excess and Surplus Lines
The specialty risks that we underwrite are complex and the claims reported by our insureds often involve coverage issues, or may result in litigation that requires handling by a claims professional with specialized knowledge and claims management expertise. Accordingly, we employ experienced claims professionals with broad backgrounds, many with more than 20 years of experience in resolving the types of claims that typically arise from the specialty risks we underwrite. We believe our claims management approach, which is focused on achieving a favorable financial outcome through prompt case evaluation and proactive litigation management practices, combined with our industry expertise, is integral to controlling our losses and loss adjustment expenses. We also utilize the knowledge and expertise that we gain through the claims management process to enhance our underwriting and marketing activities through frequent interaction among the claims, actuarial and underwriting staffs.
We have established claims management best practices, which emphasize the thorough investigation of claims, prompt settlement of valid claims, aggressive defense against claims we believe to be without merit and the establishment of adequate reserves. We have a quality assurance unit that is responsible for establishing and maintaining claims handling best practices and monitoring the uniform and consistent application of these practices. This is accomplished primarily through audits of claims files as well as broader departmental audits, as necessary. The audit process includes an evaluation of all facets of the claims management process including investigation, litigation and reserving. These audits are used to measure both departmental and individual performance and identify areas for improvement.
We have a claims committee, comprised of claims adjusting staff, claims management and legal, that meets on a bi-weekly basis to discuss high exposure and complex claims, address litigation management strategies, coverage issues and the setting of reserves above established authority levels.
Alternative Risk Transfer
Claims management plays an important role in achieving our profitability goals in our alternative risk transfer segment. We use our internal claims personnel as well as TPAs to handle the majority of the claims arising from policies written in our alternative risk transfer segment. In some cases, the program manager responsible for the development and management of a particular program has established claims management expertise in the business line written under the program and will manage the claims for the program. By utilizing TPAs, we gain immediate access to the required claims handling expertise in the unique business lines we underwrite. Our selected TPAs undergo a pre-qualification process and are regularly audited. We select TPAs with claims personnel experienced in handling claims for the types of risks typical of our specialty programs and fully funded accounts.
Our internal claims staff is responsible for both selecting the TPAs as well as ensuring the quality of claims adjudication by the TPAs. Our internal program claims staff pre-qualifies TPAs based on a process that considers, among other characteristics, expertise in a particular business line, reserving philosophy, litigation management philosophy and management controls.
Once a TPA is qualified and selected, it is given limited reserve and settlement authority. We approve every claim in excess of a TPA’s established settlement authority. Additionally, all coverage issues or disputes are required to be reported to our internal staff. To ensure that the TPAs we employ meet our performance standards, we conduct regular on-site claims audits. Recommendations arising from the claims audits are communicated to the TPA and an agreed upon action plan is implemented where required. Compliance with the action plan is monitored by our staff to ensure acceptable resolution to all recommendations.
Reinsurers rely on the ceding company to manage claims and the appropriate losses are ceded to the reinsurer in accordance with the coverage terms. We monitor ceded losses to ensure that they are ceded properly under the reinsurance agreement and, when appropriate, utilize outside services if there are coverage disputes or if losses are not consistent with the terms of the agreement. Claim audits are performed by third parties on an as-needed basis.
We believe that loss control can provide value to our underwriters as part of their risk selection process, and to our insureds in the improvement of their risk management practices. Our loss control services assist insureds and our underwriters with regulatory compliance monitoring, the identification and analysis of risk exposures and the selection and implementation of effective risk management practices. Loss control services are utilized by our environmental and construction underwriting units as part of their account evaluation and maintenance process. Loss control reports are generated on selected individual accounts and reviewed by underwriters as part of their underwriting evaluation. Our loss control services for individual accounts include an initial assessment of regulatory policies and procedures, risk management practices and targeted physical inspections performed by outside professional loss control services companies.
Our inspection process includes an office interview with the insured’s management to assess the written policies and procedures as well as the overall corporate approach toward risk management processes. In our environmental business line, we have developed specific work standards or “guidelines” to which insureds must adhere. In our construction business line, we review standard contracts utilized for projects as part of our risk management analysis. A jobsite survey is also performed to assess the implementation and adherence to company, state and federal regulations.
Reinsurance is a contractual arrangement under which one insurer (the ceding company) transfers to another insurer (the reinsurer) a portion of the liabilities that the ceding company has assumed under an insurance policy it has issued. A ceding company may purchase reinsurance for any number of reasons, including obtaining, through the transfer of a portion of its liabilities, greater underwriting capacity than its own capital resources would otherwise support, to stabilize its underwriting results, to protect against catastrophic loss and to enter into or withdraw from a business line. Reinsurance can be written on either a quota share basis (where premiums and losses are shared proportionally) or excess of loss basis (where losses are covered if they exceed a certain amount), under a treaty (involving more than one policy) or facultative (involving only one policy) reinsurance agreement.
We evaluate each of our ceded reinsurance contracts at inception to determine if there is sufficient risk transfer to allow the contract to be accounted for as reinsurance under current accounting guidance. At December 31, 2008 all ceded contracts are accounted for as risk transferring contracts.
Our philosophy is to utilize reinsurance for asset protection against business and capital risks where economically appropriate and to maximize our use of capital. A description of our 2008 reinsurance structure is as follows:
Effective September 1, 2008 the Company renewed its excess of loss reinsurance treaty on our casualty lines of business. The cost of the reinsurance provided by the renewal varies based on premium and the area of coverage. The excess of loss reinsurance treaty expires on October 1, 2009. The renewal provides four areas of coverage on essentially an as expiring basis, summarized as follows:
Casualty Lines – $4.5 million excess of $500,000, with 92.5% of the risk ceded to reinsurers and covering casualty lines including construction, products liability, specialty programs and the casualty portion of property package business. The environmental coverage is $4.5 million in excess of $500,000, with 62.5% of the risk ceded to the reinsurers. The treaty also provides excess coverages of $6.0 million excess of $5.0 million atop the environmental lines layer with 100% of the risk ceded to the reinsurers.
Umbrella and Excess - $5 million quota share placed on a cessions basis for umbrella and excess business with 87.75% of the risk ceded to reinsurers on policies written over primary general liability policies and with 78% of the risk ceded on policies written over other insurers' policies.
Effective September 1, 2008, the Company renewed the treaty providing protection from claims associated with bad faith allegations, improper claims handling and multiple insured being involved in the same occurrence. This reinsurance provides limits of $5.0 million per occurrence, subject to an aggregate limit of $15 million.
Effective May 1, 2008, the Company entered a consolidated surety reinsurance treaty providing $7.5 million of limits with $1 million per loss retention by the Company. Coverage extends to all of the Company’s surety operations. The surety reinsurance treaty expires May 1, 2009.
Effective September 1, 2007 the Company entered a consolidated property reinsurance treaty providing $10 million of limits with a $500,000 per occurrence retention by the Company. The treaty also provides protection for multiple losses arising out of one occurrence, with limits totaling $20.5 million across all layers. Loss adjustment expense is provided on a prorated basis in addition to the treaty limits shown above. The renewal date of this treaty has been extended to April 1, 2009.
For the period of July 1, 2007 through September 1, 2008, the Company was covered under an excess of loss reinsurance treaty on our casualty lines of business. Under this treaty the Company retains the first $500,000 of a loss and has a 10% participation in the $4.5 million excess of $500,000 layer for its environmental, construction and products liability line of business, as well as the general liability portion of its property line of business. The Company retains the first $250,000 of a loss on certain of its program lines of business, participates in 50% of the next $250,000 and 10% of the $4.5 million in excess of $500,000. The treaty provides that the Company retain a 10% quota share on the first $5 million of loss on the excess line of business and provides coverage on policies up to a $10 million limit.
Prior to the reinsurance treaties mentioned above, our reinsurance structure was as follows:
Environmental. Our reinsurance treaty for environmental products operates on an excess of loss basis with a maximum retention on a per occurrence basis of $837,500. The balance of the risk, up to $10.2 million in excess of the Company’s retention, is ceded to unaffiliated reinsurers.
Construction. Effective July 1, 2005 we discontinued purchasing reinsurance on the primary general liability portion of our construction business line.
Excess and Products Liability. Effective July 1, 2006 we entered into a quota share reinsurance agreement for the excess and products liability business with a maximum retention of $1.0 million per occurrence.
Specialty Programs. The majority of our program business is reinsured under separate quota share and excess of loss reinsurance treaties that were purchased for each program.
Surety. Effective June 1, 2006 the surety treaty was not renewed based on our belief that retaining this exposure will enhance our financial results and returns on capital.
Other. We also purchase reinsurance coverage on certain products that protects us from claims associated with bad faith allegations, improper claims handling and multiple insureds being involved in the same occurrence. This reinsurance provides limits of $5.0 million per occurrence, subject to an aggregate limit of $15.0 million.
For the year ended December 31, 2008, we ceded $80.5 million of premium (30.9% of gross premiums written) to unaffiliated third party reinsurers, as compared to $68.4 million of premium (31.3% of gross premiums written) in 2007. Ceded reinsurance premiums from the specialty programs business line were 44.0% of the 2008 amount and 49.5% of the 2007 amount. We monitor the reinsurance market and will increase or decrease our reliance on reinsurance depending on Company needs, available coverage and rates.
While reinsurance obligates the reinsurer to reimburse us for a portion of our losses, it does not relieve us of our primary liability to our insureds. If our reinsurers are either unwilling or unable to pay some or all of the claims made by us on a timely basis, we bear the financial exposure. We have written reinsurance security procedures that establish financial requirements for reinsurance companies that must be met prior to reinsuring any of the business we write. Among these requirements is a stipulation that reinsurance companies must have an A.M. Best rating of at least “A-” (Excellent) and a financial size category of Class VIII or greater at the time of writing any reinsurance, unless sufficient collateral has been provided at the time we enter into our reinsurance agreement. The A.M. Best ratings of reinsurers are subject to change in the future, and may cause one or more of our reinsurers to be below our stated requirements. A financial size category of Class VIII is assigned by A.M. Best to companies with adjusted policyholder surplus of $100 million to $250 million, which, on a statutory basis of accounting, is the amount remaining after all liabilities, including loss reserves, are subtracted from all admitted assets. We have also established an internal reinsurance security committee, consisting of members of senior management, which meets quarterly to discuss and monitor our reinsurance coverage and the financial security of our reinsurers.
To protect against our reinsurers’ inability to satisfy their contractual obligations to us, our reinsurance contracts stipulate a collateral requirement for reinsurance companies that do not meet the financial strength and size requirements described above. These collateral requirements can be met through the issuance of unconditional letters of credit, the establishment and funding of escrow accounts for our benefit or cash advances paid into a trust account. Collateral may also include our retention of amounts that we owe reinsurers for premium in the ordinary course of business. The following table is a listing of our largest reinsurers ranked by reinsurance recoverables and includes the collateral posted by these reinsurance companies as of December 31, 2008:
For more information on the financial exposure we bear with respect to our reinsurers, see “Risk Factors.”
Selected Operating Information
Gross Premiums Written
The following table sets forth our gross premiums written and percentage of total gross premiums by business line for the years ended December 31, 2008, 2007, and 2006 (dollars in thousands):
Net Premiums Written
The following table sets forth our net premiums written and the percentage of total net premiums by business line for the years ended December 31, 2008, 2007, and 2006 (dollars in thousands):
The combined ratio is a standard measure of a property and casualty company’s performance in managing its losses and expenses. Underwriting results are generally considered profitable when the combined ratio is less than 100%. On a GAAP basis, the combined ratio is determined by adding losses and loss adjustment expenses, acquisition expenses and other underwriting expenses, less amounts recorded as fee income, and dividing the sum of those numbers by net premiums earned. Our GAAP combined ratio was 106.0% in 2008, 97.4% in 2007, and 97.5% in 2006. See “Management’s Discussion and Analysis” for further explanation of the increase in the combined ratio.
The combined ratio of an insurance or reinsurance company measures only the underwriting results and not necessarily the profitability of the overall company. Our reported combined ratio may fluctuate from time to time depending on our mix of business and may not reflect the overall profitability of the Company.
Losses and Loss Adjustment Expense Reserves
We are required to maintain reserves to cover the unpaid portion of our ultimate liability for losses and loss adjustment expenses with respect to (i) reported claims and (ii) incurred but not reported (IBNR) claims. A full actuarial analysis is performed to estimate our unpaid losses and loss adjustment expenses under the terms of our contracts and agreements. In evaluating whether the reserves are adequate for unpaid losses and loss adjustment expenses, it is necessary to project future losses and loss adjustment expense payments. It is probable that the actual future losses and loss adjustment expenses will not develop exactly as projected and may vary significantly from the projections. See “Risk Factors” for a further explanation of this risk. See “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” for additional information regarding our historical losses and loss adjustment expenses.
With respect to reported claims, reserves are established on a case-by-case basis. The reserve amounts on each reported claim are determined by taking into account the circumstances surrounding each claim and policy provisions relating to the type of loss. Loss reserves are reviewed on a regular basis, and as new information becomes available, appropriate adjustments are made to reserves.
In establishing reserves, we employ several methods in determining our ultimate losses: (i) the expected loss ratio method; (ii) the loss development method based on paid and reported losses; and (iii) the Bornhuetter-Ferguson method based on expected loss ratios, paid losses and reported losses. The expected loss ratio method incorporates industry expected losses which are adjusted for our historical loss experience. The loss development method relies on industry payment and reporting patterns to develop our estimated losses. The Bornhuetter-Ferguson method is a combination of the other two methods, using expected loss ratios to produce expected losses, then applying loss payment and reporting patterns to our expected losses to produce our expected IBNR losses. The establishment of appropriate loss reserves is an inherently uncertain process and there can be no assurances our ultimate liabilities will not vary materially from our reserves.
All of the methods used, as described above, are generally accepted actuarial methods and rely in part on loss reporting and payment patterns while considering the long term nature of some of the coverages and inherent variability in projected results from year-to-year. The patterns used are generally based on industry data with supplemental consideration given to our experience as deemed warranted. Industry data is also relied upon as part of the actuarial analysis, and is used to provide the basis for reserve analysis on newer business lines. Provisions for inflation are implicitly considered in the reserving process. Our reserves are carried at the total estimate for ultimate expected losses and loss adjustment expenses, without any discount to reflect the time value of money. Reserve calculations are reviewed regularly by management and periodically by regulators. Our in-house actuarial department reviews the reserve
adequacy of our major lines on a quarterly basis. A full actuarial analysis is performed by our in-house actuarial department on an annual basis. In addition, an independent third party actuarial firm annually performs a full actuarial analysis, assessing the adequacy of statutory reserves established by our management. A statutory actuarial opinion is filed by management in states in which our insurance and reinsurance subsidiaries and our non-subsidiary risk retention group affiliate are licensed. “Statutory reserves” are reserves established to provide for future obligations with respect to all insurance policies as determined in accordance with statutory accounting principles (“SAP”), the rules and procedures prescribed or permitted by state insurance regulatory authorities for recording transactions and preparing financial statements. Based upon the practices and procedures employed by us described above, management believes that our reserves are adequate.
As of December 31, 2008 our net reserves totaled $393.3 million. Approximately $287.2 million, or 73.0%, of our net reserves, related to our excess and surplus lines segment, $51.2 million, or 13.0%, of our net reserves were attributable to our alternative risk transfer segment, $40.9 million or 10.4% of our net reserves were related to our assumed reinsurance segment and the balance of our net reserves, $14.0 million, or 3.6%, was allocated to our runoff segment.
The net carried reserves at December 31, 2008, 2007 and 2006 were as follows (dollars in thousands):
The following table provides a reconciliation of beginning and ending losses and loss adjustment expenses reserve liability balances on a GAAP basis for the years indicated:
(1) 2008 activity is reduced by $8,377 related to an assumed loss portfolio transfer completed during 2008.
The net prior year reserve development for 2008, 2007 and 2006 occurred in the following business lines:
The 2008 prior year adverse reserve development primarily relates to increased paid and case reserves in accident years 2002 through 2006 for environmental contractors business written in New York. The adverse development in the runoff line relates to increased estimates of workers’ compensation claims related to site cleanup activities following the terrorist attack in New York on 9/11. The adverse development is partially offset by decreases in specialty programs primarily related to the pest control program.
The 2007 prior year adverse reserve development for the environmental line primarily relates to increased case reserves on 2004 claims for environmental contractors in New York. This development was partially offset by decreases in construction, surety and runoff business lines reserves. The specialty programs’ prior year benefit is offset by $0.4 million of prior year reserve development related to a commutation of a reinsurance treaty with a former program manager.
The 2006 prior year development in the construction line primarily relates to development in layers that were previously reinsured, but the reinsurance treaty was commuted in 2005. The development in the specialty programs line primarily relates to an increase in certain case reserves on policies written in 2004 and 2005. This development is partially offset by reserve reductions in our surety and runoff lines.
The following table shows the gross, ceded and net development of the reserves for unpaid losses and loss adjustment expenses from 1998 through 2008 for our primary insurance and reinsurance subsidiaries and our non-subsidiary risk retention group affiliate. The top line of the table shows the liabilities at the balance sheet date for each of the indicated years and reflects the estimated amounts for losses and loss adjustment expenses for claims arising in that year and all prior years that are unpaid at the balance sheet date, including IBNR losses. In the gross and ceded sections of the table, the second line shows the re-estimated amount of previously recorded liabilities based on experience as of the end of each succeeding year. The lower portion of the table in the net section shows the cumulative amounts subsequently paid as of successive years with respect to the liabilities. The estimates change as more information becomes known about the frequency and severity of claims for individual years. A redundancy (deficiency) exists when the re-estimated liabilities at each December 31 is less (greater) than the prior liability estimate. The cumulative redundancy (deficiency) depicted in the table, for any particular calendar year, represents the aggregate change in the initial estimates over all subsequent calendar years.
The Company’s investment portfolio is managed for the preservation of principal, with due consideration for operating income targets and the Company’s overall asset/liability strategy.
Our investment portfolio is managed by an independent, nationally recognized investment management company that manages our investment portfolio pursuant to the investment policies and guidelines established by our Board of Directors. We have investment policies which limit the maximum duration and set target levels for the average duration of the entire portfolio. The duration target for our investment portfolio takes into account the need to manage a part of the portfolio to produce cash flow to cover operational needs while allowing flexibility to manage our assets. Our investment guidelines limit the percentage of our portfolio that is permitted to be invested in any asset class. The guidelines further limit the amount that may be invested by issuer quality rating. Additionally, we use specific criteria to judge the credit quality of our investments and use a variety of credit rating services to monitor these criteria. In conjunction with our investment policy, guidelines and strategy, we have invested predominantly in investment grade fixed income securities. Our investment portfolio consists primarily of government and government agency securities and high quality marketable corporate securities which are rated investment grade or better. We also invest in common equity securities that primarily track the S&P 500 and 600. Common equity securities represented 8.9% of our prior year-end shareholders’ equity. At December 31, 2008, we had $3.3 million invested in dividend paying preferred stocks.
Pursuant to our investment guidelines, we have general limitations on the type of investments that may be made, including, among others, prohibitions on investments in certain types of securities, credit quality limitations and duration requirements without prior approval from management or the Board of Directors. See “Risk Factors” for a description of risks associated with our investment portfolio.
At December 31, 2008 and 2007, the fair value of our cash and invested assets totaled approximately $686.6 million and $630.1 million, respectively, and were classified as follows:
The fair value of our fixed maturity securities portfolio, classified by rating, as of December 31, 2008 and 2007 were as follows:
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (the “NAIC”) has a security rating system by which it assigns investments to classes called “NAIC designations” that are used by insurers when preparing their annual financial statements. The NAIC assigns designations to publicly traded as well as privately placed securities. The designations assigned by the NAIC range from class 1 to class 6, with a rating in class 1 being the highest quality. As of December 31, 2008, virtually all portfolios of our U.S.
insurance subsidiaries were invested in securities rated in class 1 or class 2 by the NAIC, which are considered investment grade.
The weighted average maturity of our bond portfolio at December 31, 2008, was 6.55 years. The maturity distribution of our fixed maturity portfolio, as of December 31, 2008, based on stated maturity dates with no prepayment assumptions, was as follows:
Our mortgage and asset-backed securities are subject to risks associated with the variable prepayments of the underlying mortgage loans. All of our mortgage-backed securities are fixed income securities issued by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac or Ginnie Mae and are therefore guaranteed by the U.S. government. As a result, we do not believe that these investments present a significant exposure to sub-prime mortgage risks.
Our Non-Subsidiary Affiliate
The Risk Retention Act of 1986 (the “Risk Retention Act”) allowed companies with specialized liability insurance needs that could not be met in the standard insurance market to create a new type of insurance vehicle called a risk retention group. We assisted in the formation of American Safety RRG in 1988 in order to establish a U.S. insurance company to market and underwrite specialty environmental coverages. The advantage of writing policies through a risk retention group is that it is permitted to write policies in all fifty states without having to qualify to do so in each state.
American Safety RRG is a variable interest entity which is consolidated in our financial statements in accordance with FASB, FIN 46. American Safety RRG is authorized to write liability insurance in all 50 states as a result of the Risk Retention Act and is licensed by the Vermont Department of Banking, Insurance, Securities and HealthCare Administration (the “Vermont Department”) under Title 8 of the Vermont Statute Annotated (the “Vermont Captive Act”) as a stock captive insurance company. Presently, three of our directors are also directors of American Safety RRG: David V. Brueggen, Thomas W. Mueller and Cody W. Birdwell. The directors of American Safety RRG are elected annually by the shareholders of American Safety RRG.
We transferred our book of environmental insurance business previously written in Bermuda to American Safety RRG in 1988 to allow us to write that insurance on a domestic basis. Prior to October 2006, our insurance subsidiaries participated in the ongoing business of American Safety RRG through a pooling agreement (whereby we retained 75% of the premiums and risk). Effective October 1, 2006, the Company commuted this pooling agreement for accident years 2002 to 2006 with its affiliates. This commutation did not result in any gain or loss to the respective parties involved. Also effective October 1, 2006, American Safety RRG entered into a 90/10 quota share agreement with American Safety Re.
ASI Services, directly and through its subsidiaries, provides business development, underwriting, accounting, program management, brokerage and claims services and ASAS, directly, provides administration, marketing, legal and administrative services to our U.S. insurance operations and our non-subsidiary risk retention group affiliate.
ASI Services has developed many of our primary insurance and reinsurance programs. Since 1990, ASI Services has served as the program manager for American Safety RRG, providing it with program management, underwriting, loss control and through its subsidiary, ASCS, claims services. ASAS provides marketing, accounting, legal and other administrative services. In each case, these services are provided pursuant to guidelines and procedures established by the Board of Directors of American Safety RRG.
ASI Services provides a number of services to our three U.S. insurance subsidiaries and to American Safety RRG. These services include:
ASAS provides other services to our three U.S. insurance subsidiaries and to American Safety RRG, including:
ASCS provides: claims administration services for the prompt reporting and handling of claims, and the supervision of claims adjusters and TPAs and payment of claims.
Insurance Regulation Generally
Our insurance operations are subject to regulation under applicable insurance statutes of the jurisdictions or states in which each subsidiary is domiciled and writes insurance. Insurance regulations are intended to provide safeguards for policyholders rather than to protect shareholders of insurance companies or their holding companies.
The nature and extent of state regulation varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but typically involves prior approval of the acquisition of control of an insurance company or of any company controlling an insurance company, regulation of certain transactions entered into by an insurance company with an affiliate, approval of premium rates for lines of insurance, standards of solvency and minimum amounts of capital and surplus which must be maintained, limitations on types and amounts of investments, restrictions on the size of risks which may be insured by a single company, deposits of securities for the benefit of policyholders, licensing to transact business, accreditation of reinsurers, admittance of assets to statutory surplus and reports with respect to financial condition and other matters. In addition, state regulatory examiners perform periodic examinations of insurance companies. American Safety RRG, American Safety Casualty, American Safety Indemnity and American Safety Assurance (Vermont) are all subject to examination by state regulatory examiners every three years. The last state regulatory examination for American Safety RRG, American Safety Casualty and American Safety Indemnity, occurred in 2004, 2005 and 2005, respectively. Oklahoma is currently conducting examinations of American Safety Casualty and American Safety Indemnity for the three years ended December 31, 2007. American Safety Assurance (VT) was formed in 2008 and therefore will be subject to examinations in the future.
Although the federal government does not directly regulate the business of insurance in the U.S., federal initiatives often affect the insurance business in a variety of ways. The insurance regulatory structure has also been subject to scrutiny in recent years by the NAIC, federal and state legislative bodies and state regulatory authorities. Various new regulatory standards have been adopted and proposed in recent years. The development of standards to ensure the maintenance of appropriate levels of statutory surplus by insurers has been a matter of particular concern to insurance regulatory authorities. The “statutory surplus” is the amount remaining after all liabilities, including loss reserves, are subtracted from all admitted assets and is determined in accordance with SAP. The difference between statutory financial statements and statements prepared in accordance with GAAP vary by jurisdiction; however, the primary difference is that statutory financial statements do not reflect deferred policy acquisition costs, certain net deferred tax assets, intangible assets, unrealized appreciation on debt securities or certain unauthorized reinsurance recoverables.
Our Bermuda subsidiaries that conduct reinsurance business, American Safety Re and American Safety Assurance, are subject to regulation under The Insurance Act 1978, as amended, of Bermuda and related regulations (the “Bermuda Act”), which provide that no person shall conduct insurance business (including reinsurance) in or from Bermuda unless registered as an insurer under the Bermuda Act by the Supervisor of Insurance (the “Supervisor”). American Safety Re and American Safety Assurance are registered insurers under the Bermuda Act.
The Bermuda Act requires, among other things, Bermuda insurance companies to meet and maintain certain standards of solvency, to file periodic reports in accordance with the Bermuda Statutory Accounting Rules, to produce annual audited financial statements and to maintain a minimum level of statutory capital and surplus. In general, the regulation of insurers in Bermuda relies heavily upon the auditors, directors and managers of the Bermuda insurer, each of which must certify that the insurer meets
the solvency capital requirements of the Bermuda Act. Furthermore, the Supervisor is granted powers to supervise, investigate and intervene in the affairs of insurance companies.
Neither American Safety Insurance Holdings, Ltd., American Safety Re nor American Safety Assurance are registered or licensed as an insurance company in any state or jurisdiction in the U.S.
As a Bermuda insurance holding company, we do not do business in the U.S. Our three U.S. insurance subsidiaries’ operations are subject to state regulation where each is domiciled and where each writes insurance.
We acquired American Safety Casualty, a U.S. property and casualty insurance company domiciled in Delaware, in 1993. During 2007 American Safety Casualty was re-domesticated from Delaware to Oklahoma. American Safety Casualty is licensed as a property and casualty insurer in 48 states and the District of Columbia. American Safety Casualty is subject to regulation and examination by the Oklahoma Insurance Department and the other states in which it is an admitted insurer. The insurance laws of Oklahoma place restrictions on a change of control of American Safety Insurance as result of our ownership of American Safety Casualty. Under Oklahoma law, no person may obtain 10% or more of our voting securities without the prior approval of the Oklahoma Insurance Department.
American Safety Casualty, as a licensed insurer, is subject to state regulation of rates and policy forms in the various states in which its direct premiums are written. Under these regulations, a licensed insurer may be required to file and obtain prior approval of its policy form and the rates that are charged to insureds. American Safety Casualty is also required to participate in state insolvency funds, or shared markets, which are designed to protect insureds or insurers that become unable to pay claims due to an insurer’s insolvency. Assessments made against insurers participating in these funds are usually based on direct premiums written in the state by a participating insurer, as a percentage of total direct premiums written in the state by all participating insurers. “Premiums written” are those premiums written, whether or not earned, during a time period.
We acquired American Safety Indemnity, a U.S. excess and surplus lines insurance company domiciled in Oklahoma, in 2000. American Safety Indemnity is currently licensed or approved as an excess and surplus lines insurer in 44 states and the District of Columbia. The insurance laws of Oklahoma place restrictions on a change of control of American Safety Insurance as a result of our ownership of American Safety Indemnity. Under Oklahoma law, no person may obtain 10% or more of our voting securities without the prior approval of the Oklahoma Insurance Department.
The premium rates of American Safety Indemnity, as an excess and surplus lines insurer, are not filed and approved with the various state insurance departments, but certain requirements regarding the types of insurance written by excess and surplus lines insurers still must be met. Generally, excess and surplus lines insurers may only write coverage that is not available in the “admitted” market and strict guidelines regarding the coverages are set forth in various state statutes. Surplus lines brokers are the licensed individuals or entities placing coverage with excess and surplus lines insurers, and in most states, the broker is responsible for the payment of surplus lines taxes which are payable to the state in which the surplus lines risk is located. Surplus lines insurers are exempt from participation in state insolvency funds which are designed to protect insureds if “admitted” insurers become insolvent and are unable to pay claims. While American Safety Indemnity is exempt from the majority of state regulatory requirements, it must be “approved” to write the type of insurance in the states where its surplus business lines insurance is written. The Oklahoma Insurance Department retains primary regulatory authority over American Safety Indemnity, as a licensed and admitted insurance company in Oklahoma.
The Risk Retention Act allows the establishment of risk retention groups to insure certain liability risks of its members. The statute applies only to commercial liability insurance and does not permit coverage for liability for personal injury, damage to property or workers’ compensation.
The Risk Retention Act and Title 8 of the “Vermont Captive Act” require that each insured of American Safety RRG be a shareholder. Each insured is required to purchase one share of American Safety RRG’s common stock upon acceptance as an insured. There is no trading market for the shares of common stock of American Safety RRG and each share is restricted as to transfer. If and when a holder of American Safety RRG common stock ceases to be an insured, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, that holder’s share of common stock is automatically canceled and that person is no longer a shareholder of American Safety RRG. The ownership interests of members in a risk retention group are considered to be exempt securities for purposes of the registration provisions of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended and are likewise not considered securities for purposes of any state securities law.
Congress intended under the Risk Retention Act that the primary responsibility for regulating the financial condition of a risk retention group would rest on the state in which the group is licensed or chartered. American Safety RRG is subject to regulation as a captive insurer under the insurance laws of Vermont and, to a lesser extent, under the laws of each state in which it does business. Any merger or acquisition of American Safety RRG is subject to the prior written approval of the commissioner of the Vermont Department. The Risk Retention Act requires a risk retention group to provide a notice on each insurance policy which it issues to the effect that (i) the policy is issued by a risk retention group; (ii) the risk retention group may not be subject to all of the insurance laws and regulations of the state in which the policy is being issued; and (iii) no state insurance insolvency guaranty fund is available to the policies issued by the risk retention group.
American Safety Casualty and American Safety Indemnity and American Safety RRG are required to comply with NAIC risk-based capital (“RBC”) requirements. RBC is a method of measuring the amount of capital appropriate for an insurance company to support its overall business in light of its size and risk profile. The ratio of a company’s actual policyholder surplus to its minimum capital requirements will determine whether any state regulatory action is required. State regulatory authorities use the RBC formula to identify insurance companies which may be undercapitalized and may require further regulatory attention.
American Safety Assurance (Vermont), Inc. (ASA VT) is a licensed Vermont sponsored captive insurance company formed in December, 2008. ASA VT is subject to regulation and to examination by the Vermont Department of Banking, Insurance, Securities & Health Care Administration. Standard Vermont regulatory requirements applicable to traditional insurers generally are not applicable to captive insurers, but applicable Vermont captive laws do limit the type of entity that may act as a sponsor, limit a participant to insuring its risks only through the segregated or protected cell and require that a participant’s assets and liabilities be maintained in a segregated or protected cell separate from the experience of other cells and from the assets of the sponsored captive’s general account. Vermont regulators evaluate the financial condition of the company and of each segregated cell.
ASA VT, as a sponsored captive insurer, makes insurance available to a broad range of liability, property and casualty risks and allows the ceding of a portion of those risks to another American Safety Insurance affiliate. The use of the protected cell may be more desirable than a traditional captive insurance company due to the ability to limit exposure primarily to segregated cell covering risk for a specific insured or group of related insureds or specialty books of business.
Harbour Village Development
In March 2000, our subsidiary Ponce Lighthouse Properties Inc. and our general contracting subsidiary Rivermar Contracting Company began development of Harbour Village, located in Ponce Inlet, Florida, with 676 condominium units, a marina containing 142 boat slips, a par-3 golf course and beach club. We acquired the Harbour Village property (comprising 173 acres) through foreclosure in April 1999 from an individual to whom the Company had extended a loan in order to satisfy the loan after it was in default. Development of Harbour Village was completed and all of the condominium units and boat slips had been sold and closed by the second quarter of 2005. The beach club, the last phase of the development, was completed in 2006 and turned over to the home owners association. Ponce Lighthouse Properties, Inc. and Rivermar Contracting Company have been liquidated during 2008 and the Company has no ongoing business or employees at Harbour Village.
At December 31, 2008, we employed 182 persons, none of whom were represented by a labor union.
Item 1A. Risk Factors
Our business is subject to the following risk factors, among others, in addition to the information (including disclosures relative to forward-looking statements) set forth elsewhere in this report.
Risk Factors Relating to American Safety Insurance
A downgrade in our A.M. Best rating or increased capital requirements could impair our ability to sell insurance policies.
On October 29, 2008, A.M. Best, the most widely recognized insurance company rating agency, affirmed its rating of “A” (Excellent) on a group basis of American Safety Insurance, including our U.S. insurance subsidiaries, our Bermuda reinsurance subsidiary and our U.S. non-subsidiary risk retention group affiliate. A. M. Best also affirmed the rating outlook of stable. An “A” (Excellent) rating is the third highest of fifteen ratings assigned by A.M. Best to companies that have, in the opinion of A.M. Best, an excellent ability to meet their ongoing obligations to policyholders.
Some policyholders are required to obtain insurance coverage from insurance companies that have an “A-” (Excellent) rating or higher from A.M. Best. Additionally, many producers are prohibited from placing insurance or reinsurance with companies that are rated below “A-” (Excellent) by A.M. Best. A.M. Best assigns ratings that represent an independent opinion of a company’s ability to meet its obligations to policyholders that is of concern primarily to policyholders, brokers and agents, and its rating and outlook should not be considered an investment recommendation. Because A.M. Best continually monitors companies with regard to their ratings, our ratings could change at any time, and any downgrade of our current rating may impair our ability to sell insurance policies and, ultimately, our financial condition and operating results.
If A.M. Best requires us to increase our capital in order to maintain our rating and we are unable to raise the required amount of capital to be contributed to our subsidiaries, A.M. Best may downgrade our rating.
The exclusions and limitations in our policies may not be enforceable.
We draft the terms and conditions of our excess and surplus lines policies to manage our exposure to expanding theories of legal liability in business lines such as asbestos abatement, construction defect, environmental and professional liability. Many of the policies we issue include exclusions or other conditions that define and limit coverage. In addition, many of our policies limit the period during which a policyholder may bring a claim under the policy, which period in many cases is shorter than the statutory period under which these claims can be brought against our policyholders. While these exclusions and limitations help us assess and control our loss exposure, it is possible that a court or regulatory authority could nullify or void an exclusion or limitation, or legislation could be enacted modifying or barring the use of these exclusions and limitations particularly with respect to evolving business lines such as construction defect. This could result in higher than anticipated losses and loss adjustment expenses by extending coverage beyond our underwriting intent or increasing the number or size of claims, which could have a material adverse effect on our operating results. In some instances, these changes may not become apparent until some time after we have issued the insurance policies that are affected by the changes. As a result, the full extent of liability under our insurance contracts may not be known for many years after a policy is issued.
The risks we underwrite are concentrated in relatively few industries.
We focus much of our underwriting on specialty risks in the construction and environmental remediation industries. As a result of our diversification efforts, for the year ended December 31, 2008, approximately 32% of our gross written premiums were written in these two industries compared to 49% for 2007. However, our operating results could be more exposed than our more diversified competitors to unfavorable changes in business, economic or regulatory conditions, changes in federal, state or local environmental standards and establishment of legal precedents affecting these industries. Similarly, a significant incident impacting one of these industries that has the effect of increasing claims generally (or their settlement value) could negatively impact our financial condition and operating results.
We may respond to market trends by expanding or contracting our underwriting activities in certain business lines, which may cause our financial results to be volatile.
Although we perform due diligence and risk analysis before entering into a new business line or insuring a new type of risk, and carefully assess the impact of exiting a business line, changing business lines inherently has more risk than remaining in the same business lines over a period of time. Because we actively seek to expand or contract our capacity in the markets we serve in response to factors such as loss experience and premium production, our operating results may experience material fluctuations.
Our industry is highly competitive and we may lack the financial resources to compete effectively.
We believe that competition in the specialty insurance markets that we target is fragmented and not dominated by one or more competitors. We face competition from several types of companies, such as insurance companies, reinsurance companies, underwriting agencies, program managers and captive insurance companies. Many of our competitors are significantly larger and possess greater financial, marketing and management resources than we do. We compete on the basis of many factors, including coverage availability, claims management, payment terms, premium rates, policy terms, types of insurance offered, overall financial strength, financial strength ratings and reputation. If any of our competitors offer premium rates, policy terms or types of insurance that are more competitive than ours we could lose business. If we are unable to compete effectively in the markets in which we operate or to establish a competitive position in new markets, our financial condition and operating results would be adversely impacted.
Our actual incurred losses may be greater than reserves for our losses and loss adjustment expenses.
Insurance companies are required to maintain reserves to cover their estimated liability for losses and loss adjustment expenses with respect to both reported and incurred but not reported (“IBNR”) claims. Reserves are estimates at a given time involving actuarial and statistical projections of what we expect to be the cost of the ultimate resolution and administration of claims. These estimates are based on facts and circumstances then known, predictions of future events, estimates of future trends, projected claims frequency and severity, potential judicial expansion of liability precedents, legislative activity and other factors, such as inflation. Our in-house actuarial staff reviews the reserves of our major lines on a quarterly basis and a full actuarial analysis annually. In addition, an independent third party actuarial firm performs a full actuarial analysis annually, which includes assessing the adequacy of statutory reserves.
Notwithstanding these efforts, the establishment of adequate reserves for losses and loss adjustment expenses is an inherently uncertain process, particularly in the environmental remediation industry, construction industry and some of the other industries for which we write policies where extensive historical data may not exist or where the risks insured are long-tail in nature, in that claims that have occurred may not be reported to us for long periods of time. For instance, there is little empirical data for residential construction defect claims and hence, traditional actuarial analysis may be inapplicable or less reliable. Due to these uncertainties, our ultimate losses could materially exceed our reserves for losses and
loss adjustment expenses, especially in business lines where we have increased or intend to increase our risk retention.
To the extent that reserves for losses or loss adjustment expenses are estimated in the future to be inadequate, we would have to increase our reserves and incur charges to earnings in the periods in which the reserves are increased. In addition, increases in reserves may also cause additional reinsurance premiums to be payable to our reinsurers. These increases in reserves and reinsurance premiums would adversely impact our financial condition and operating results. For more information on our losses and loss adjustment expenses, see “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations.”
If we are unable to obtain reinsurance on favorable terms, our ability to write new polices could be adversely affected.
Reinsurance is a contractual arrangement under which one insurer (the ceding company) transfers to another insurer (the reinsurer) a portion of the liabilities that the ceding company has assumed under an insurance policy it has issued. Our business involves ceding portions of the risks that we underwrite to reinsurers. The availability and cost of reinsurance are subject to prevailing market conditions that are beyond our control and are factors that could materially impact our financial condition and operating results. There is no certainty that reinsurance will continue to be available in the form or in the amount that we require or, if available, at an affordable cost. The availability of reinsurance is dependent not only on reinsurers’ reactions to the specific risks that we underwrite, but also events that impact the overall reinsurance industry. If we are unable to maintain or replace our reinsurance,our total loss exposure would increase and, if we were unwilling or unable to assume that increase in exposure, we would be required to mitigate the increase in exposure by writing fewer policies or writing policies with lower limits or different coverage.
We may be unable to recover amounts due from our reinsurers.
While reinsurance contractually obligates the reinsurer to reimburse us for a portion of our losses, it does not relieve us of our primary financial liability to our insureds. If our reinsurers are either unwilling or unable to pay some or all of the claims made by us on a timely basis, we bear the financial exposure. As a result, we are subject to credit risk with respect to our reinsurers. The total amount of reinsurance recoverables at December 31, 2008 was $235.6 million, or 108.6% of shareholders’ equity. Of this amount, $95.7 million, or approximately 40.6% of the total recoverable amount, is collateralized by cash, irrevocable letters of credit or other acceptable forms of collateral posted by the reinsurer.
We purchase reinsurance from reinsurers we believe to be financially sound. We have written reinsurance security procedures that establish financial requirements for reinsurance companies that must be met prior to reinsuring any of the business we write. Among these requirements is a stipulation that reinsurance companies must have an A.M. Best rating of at least “A-” (Excellent) and a financial size category of Class VIII or greater at the time of writing any reinsurance unless sufficient collateral has been provided at the time we enter into our reinsurance agreement. A financial size category of Class VIII is assigned by A.M. Best to companies with adjusted policyholder surplus of $100 million to $250 million, which, on a statutory basis of accounting, is the amount remaining after all liabilities, including loss reserves, are subtracted from all admitted assets. We have also established an internal reinsurance security committee, consisting of members of senior management, which meets quarterly to discuss and approve reinsurance security and evaluate collectability of reinsurance recoverables. To protect against our reinsurers inability to satisfy their contractual obligations to us, our reinsurance contracts stipulate a collateral requirement for reinsurance companies that do not meet the financial strength and size requirements described above. These collateral requirements can be met through the issuance of unconditional letters of credit, the establishment and funding of escrow accounts for our benefit or cash advances paid into a segregated account. In the event collateral is not sufficient, there is no certainty that these reinsurers will be able to provide additional collateral or fulfill their obligations to us.
We are unable to ensure the credit worthiness of our reinsurers. In prior years, A.M. Best and Standard and Poor’s (“S&P”), downgraded the financial strength ratings of the insurance and reinsurance operating subsidiaries of Alea Group Holdings (Bermuda) Ltd., including among others, Alea North American Insurance Company and Alea London Limited (“Alea”), one of our reinsurers. Subsequently, Alea requested that A.M. Best withdraw all ratings of Alea. A.M. Best currently has assigned a NR-4 (Company Request) to Alea. As of December 31, 2008, our unsecured estimated net exposure to Alea was approximately $9.9 million, primarily in our specialty programs. This estimate is based upon our estimates of losses and will not reflect our exposure if our actual losses differ from those estimates.
The Company recorded a provision to increase its allowance on reinsurance recoverables of $2.5 million during the year ended December 31, 2008, due to concerns regarding the collectability of its reinsurance recoverables. The Company had allowances of $3.8 million and $1.3 million established at December 31, 2008 and 2007, respectively.
We rely on independent insurance agents and brokers to market our products.
We market most of our insurance products through approximately 250 independent insurance agents and brokers, which we refer to as producers. These producers are not obligated to promote our products and may sell competitors’ products. Our profitability depends, in part, on the marketing efforts of these producers and on our ability to offer insurance products and services while maintaining financial strength ratings that meet the requirements of our producers and their customers. The failure or inability of producers to market our insurance products successfully would have a material adverse effect on our business and operating results. As of December 31, 2008, the Company has no individual producers that generate greater than 10% of gross premiums written.
We are subject to credit risk in connection with producers that market our products.
In accordance with industry practice, when the insured pays premiums for our policies to producers for payment over to us, these premiums are considered to have been paid and, in most cases, the insured is no longer liable to us for those amounts, whether or not we actually have received the premiums. Consequently, we assume a degree of credit risk associated with the producers with whom we choose to do business. To date, we have not experienced any material losses related to these credit risks.
Our long-term growth strategy is dependent on several factors, the failure to achieve any one of which may impair our ability to expand our operations or may prevent us from operating profitably.
Our long-term growth strategy includes expanding in our existing markets, entering new geographic markets, creating relationships with new producers and developing new insurance products. In order to generate this growth, we are subject to various risks, including risks associated with our ability to:
Our inability to achieve any of the above objectives could affect our long-term growth strategy and may cause our business and operating results to suffer.
If we lose key personnel or are unable to recruit qualified personnel, our ability to implement our business strategies could be delayed or hindered.
Our future success will depend, in part, upon the efforts of our executive officers and other key personnel. Our ability to recruit and retain key personnel will depend upon a number of factors, such as our results of operations, business prospects and the level of competition then prevailing in the market for qualified personnel. The loss of any of these officers or other key personnel or our inability to recruit key personnel could prevent us from fully implementing our business strategies and could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and operating results.
We routinely evaluate opportunities to expand our business through acquisitions of other companies or business lines. There are many risks associated with acquisitions that we may be unable to control.
We evaluate potential acquisition opportunities as a means to grow our business. There are a number of risks attendant to any acquisition. These risks include, among others, the difficulty in integrating the operations and personnel of an acquired company; potential disruption of our ongoing business; inability to successfully integrate acquired systems and insurance programs into our operations; maintenance of uniform standards, controls and procedures; possible impairment of relationships with employees and insureds of an acquired business as a result of changes in management; and that the acquired business may not produce the level of expected profitability. As a result, the impact of any acquisition on our future performance may not be consistent with original expectations, and may impair our business, financial condition and operating results.
A prolonged economic downturn may have a negative impact on our financial results.
We may require additional capital in the future, which may not be available or may only be available on unfavorable terms.
Our future capital requirements depend on many factors, including our ability to write profitable new business, retain existing customers and establish premium rates and reserves at levels sufficient to cover losses and related expenses. Many factors will affect our capital needs and their amount and timing, including our growth and profitability, our claims experience and the availability of reinsurance, as well as possible acquisition opportunities, market disruptions, changes in regulatory requirements and other unforeseeable developments. If we have to raise additional capital, equity or debt financing may not be available at all or may be available only on terms that are unfavorable to us. In the case of equity
financings, dilution to our shareholders could result. In the case of debt financings, we may be subject to covenants that restrict our ability to freely operate our business. If we cannot obtain adequate capital on favorable terms or at all, we may not have sufficient funds to implement our operating plans and our business, financial condition and operating results could be adversely affected.
Changes in the value of our investment portfolio may have a material impact on our operating results.
We derive a significant portion of our net earnings from our invested assets. As a result, our operating results depend in part on the performance of our investment portfolio. As of the year ended December 31, 2008, the fair value of our investment portfolio was $673.7 million and net investment income derived from these assets was $29.6 million. We also incurred net realized losses of $14.3 million in 2008. Our investment portfolio is subject to various risks, including:
Our investment portfolio is comprised mostly of fixed-income securities. We do not hedge our investments against interest rate risk and, accordingly, changes in interest rates may result in fluctuations in the value of these investments.
Our investment portfolio is managed by an independent, nationally recognized investment management firm, in accordance with detailed investment policies and guidelines established by the Board of Directors, that stress preservation of principal with due consideration for operating income targets and the Company’s overall asset/liability strategy. If our investment portfolios are not appropriately matched with the respective insurance and reinsurance liabilities, we may be forced to liquidate investments prior to their maturity at a significant loss in order to cover these liabilities. This might occur, for instance, in the event of a large or unexpected claim or series of claims. Large investment losses could significantly decrease our asset base, thereby affecting our ability to underwrite new business. For more information about our investment portfolio, see “Business-Investments.”
We rely upon the successful and uninterrupted functioning of our information technology, information processing and telecommunication systems.
Our business is highly dependent upon the successful and uninterrupted functioning of our information technology, information processing and telecommunications systems. We rely on these systems to support our marketing operations, process new and renewal business, provide customer service, make claims payments, and facilitate premium collections and policy cancellations. These systems also enable us to perform actuarial and other modeling functions necessary for underwriting and rate development. We have a highly trained staff that is committed to the continual development and maintenance of these systems. However, the failure of these systems could interrupt our operations or materially impact our ability to evaluate and write new business. Because our information technology, information processing and telecommunications systems interface with and depend on third party systems, we could experience service denials if demand for this service exceeds capacity or if the third party systems fail or experience interruptions. If sustained or repeated, a system failure or service denial could result in a deterioration of our ability to write and process new and renewal business and provide customer service or compromise our ability to pay claims in a timely manner. There can be no guarantee that these systems can effectively support our continued growth. Additionally, some of our systems are not fully redundant, and our disaster recovery planning does not account for all eventualities, which could adversely affect our business.
We are subject to risks related to litigation.
From time to time, we are subject to lawsuits and other claims arising out of our insurance, reinsurance and former real estate operations. We have responded to the lawsuits we face and, although the outcome of these lawsuits cannot be predicted, we believe that there are meritorious defenses and intend to vigorously contest these claims. Adverse judgments in one or more of these lawsuits could require us to change aspects of our operations in addition to paying significant damage amounts. In addition, the expenses related to these lawsuits may be significant. Lawsuits can have a material adverse effect on our business and operating results, particularly where we have not established an accrual or a sufficient accrual for damages, settlements or expenses. For information on the material litigation in which we are involved, see “Item 3 - Legal Proceedings”.
Risk Factors Related to Taxation
Our Bermuda operations may be subject to U.S. tax.
American Safety Insurance Holdings, Ltd., its reinsurance subsidiary, American Safety Re and its segregated account captive, American Safety Assurance, are organized in Bermuda. American Safety Insurance Holdings, Ltd., American Safety Re and American Safety Assurance are operated in a manner such that they should not be subject to U.S. tax (other than U.S. excise tax on insurance and reinsurance premium income attributable to insuring or reinsuring U.S. risks and U.S. withholding tax on some types of U.S. source investment income) because none of these companies should be treated as engaged in a trade or business within the U.S. (and, in the case of American Safety Re and American Safety Assurance, to be doing business through a permanent establishment within the U.S.). However, because there is considerable uncertainty as to the activities that constitute being engaged in a trade or business within the U.S. (and what constitutes a permanent establishment under the income tax treaty between the U.S. and Bermuda (the “Bermuda Treaty”) as well as the entitlement of American Safety Re and American Safety Assurance to treaty benefits), there can be no assurances that the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (the “IRS”) will not contend successfully that American Safety Insurance Holdings, Ltd., American Safety Re and/or American Safety Assurance is engaged in a trade or business in the U.S. (or that American Safety Re or American Safety Assurance is carrying on business through a permanent establishment in the U.S.). If any of American Safety Insurance Holdings, Ltd., American Safety Re or American Safety Assurance were considered to be engaged in a trade or business in the U.S., it could be subject to U.S. corporate income and additional branch profits taxes on the portion of its earnings effectively connected to such U.S. business, in which case its operating results could be materially adversely affected.
Changes in U.S. federal income tax law could materially adversely affect us.
Legislation has been introduced in the U.S. Congress intended to eliminate some perceived tax advantages of companies (including insurance companies) that have legal domiciles outside the United States but have certain U.S. connections. changes in federal income tax law could be enacted by the current Congress or future Congresses that could have an adverse impact on our results of operations.
If you acquire 10% or more of the Common Shares, you may be subject to taxation under the “controlled foreign corporation” (“CFC”) rules.
Under certain circumstances, a “U.S. 10% shareholder” of a foreign corporation that is a CFC for an uninterrupted period of 30 days or more during a taxable year must include in gross income for U.S. federal income tax purposes that U.S. 10% shareholder’s “subpart F income,” even if the “subpart F income” is not distributed to that U.S. 10% shareholder. “Subpart F income” of a foreign insurance corporation typically includes foreign personal holding company income (such as interest, dividends and other types of passive income), as well as insurance and reinsurance income (including underwriting and investment income) attributable to the insurance of risks situated outside the CFC’s country of incorporation.
We believe that because of the dispersion of our Common Share ownership, provisions in our organizational documents that limit voting power and other factors, no U.S. person who acquires Common Shares directly or indirectly through one or more foreign entities should be required to include our “subpart F income” in income under the CFC rules of the Code. It is possible that the IRS could challenge the effectiveness of these provisions and that a court could sustain that challenge, in which case, one’s investment could be materially adversely affected.
U.S. persons who hold Common Shares may be subject to U.S. federal income taxation at ordinary income rates on their proportionate share of our “related party insurance income” (“RPII”).
If the RPII of American Safety Re or American Safety Assurance were to equal or exceed 20% of its gross insurance income in any taxable year and direct or indirect insureds (and persons related to those insureds) own directly or indirectly through entities 20% or more of the voting power or value of American Safety Re or American Safety Assurance, then a U.S. person who owns any Common Shares (directly or indirectly through foreign entities) on the last day of the taxable year would be required to include in income for U.S. federal income tax purposes that person’s pro rata share of that company’s RPII for the entire taxable year, determined as if that RPII were distributed proportionately only to U.S. persons at that date regardless of whether that income is distributed. In addition, any RPII that is includible in the income of a U.S. tax-exempt organization may be treated as unrelated business taxable income. Neither American Safety Re nor American Safety Assurance expects gross RPII to equal or exceed 20% of its gross income for 2008 or subsequent years, and neither expects its direct or indirect insureds (including related persons) to directly or indirectly hold 20% or more of its voting power or value, but we cannot be certain that this will be the case because some of the factors which determine the extent of RPII may be beyond our control. If these thresholds are met or exceeded, and if you are an affected U.S. person, your investment could be materially adversely affected. The RPII provisions, however, have never been interpreted by the courts or the U.S. Treasury Department (the “Treasury Department”) in final regulations, and regulations interpreting the RPII provisions of the Code exist only in proposed form. It is not certain whether these regulations will be adopted in their proposed form or what changes or clarifications might ultimately be made thereto or whether any of those changes, as well as any interpretation or application of RPII by the IRS, the courts or otherwise, might have retroactive effect. The Treasury Department has authority to impose, among other things, additional reporting requirements with respect to RPII. Accordingly, the meaning of the RPII provisions and the application thereof to us is uncertain.
U.S. persons who dispose of Common Shares may be subject to U.S. federal income taxation at the rates applicable to dividends on a portion of their gain, if any.
Section 1248 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended (the “Code”) provides that if a U.S. person sells or exchanges stock of a foreign corporation and that person owned, directly, indirectly through certain foreign entities or constructively, 10% or more of the voting power of the corporation at any time during the five-year period ending on the date of disposition when the corporation was a CFC, any gain from the sale or exchange of the shares will be treated as a dividend to the extent of that person’s share of the CFC’s earnings and profits (determined under U.S. federal income tax principles) during the period that person held the shares and while the corporation was a CFC (with certain adjustments). We believe that because of the dispersion of our Common Share ownership, provisions in our organizational documents that limit voting power and other factors, no U.S. shareholder, other than Fredrick C. Treadway or Treadway Associates, L.P., of American Safety Insurance should be treated as owning (directly, indirectly through foreign entities or constructively) 10% or more of the total voting power of American Safety Insurance. As a result, American Safety Insurance should not be a CFC and Section 1248 of the Code, as applicable under the general CFC rules, should not apply to dispositions of our shares. It is possible, however, that the IRS could challenge these provisions in our organizational documents and that a court could sustain that challenge. To the extent American Safety Insurance is a CFC, a 10% U.S. Shareholder may in certain circumstances be required to report a disposition of Common Shares by attaching IRS Form 5471 to the U.S. federal income tax or information return that it would normally file for the taxable year in which the disposition occurs.
For purposes of Section 1248 of the Code and the requirement to file Form 5471, special rules apply with respect to a U.S. person’s disposition of shares of a foreign insurance company that has RPII during the five-year period ending on the date of the disposition. In general, if a U.S. person disposes of shares in a foreign insurance corporation in which U.S. persons own 25% or more of the shares (even if the amount of gross RPII is less than 20% of the corporation’s gross insurance income and the ownership of its shares by direct or indirect insureds and related persons is less than the 20% threshold), any gain from the disposition may be treated as a dividend to the extent of that person’s share of the corporation’s undistributed earnings and profits that were accumulated during the period that person owned the shares (whether or not those earnings and profits are attributable to RPII). As a result of these special rules and proposed Treasury Department regulations, the IRS may assert that Section 1248 of the Code and the requirement to file Form 5471 apply to dispositions of Common Shares because American Safety Insurance is engaged in the insurance business indirectly through subsidiaries.
U.S. persons who hold Common Shares will be subject to adverse tax consequences if American Safety Insurance is considered to be a Passive Foreign Investment Company (a “PFIC”) for U.S. federal income tax purposes.
If American Safety Insurance is considered a PFIC for U.S. federal income tax purposes, a U.S. person who owns Common Shares will be subject to adverse tax consequences, including subjecting the investor to a greater tax liability than might otherwise apply and subjecting the investor to tax on amounts in advance of when tax would otherwise be imposed, in which case your investment could be materially adversely affected. In addition, if American Safety Insurance were considered a PFIC, upon the death of any U.S. individual owning Common Shares, that individual’s heirs or estate would not be entitled to a “step-up” in the basis of the shares which might otherwise be available under U.S. federal income tax laws. American Safety Insurance does not believe that it is, and does not expect to become, a PFIC for U.S. federal income tax purposes. No assurance can be given, however, that American Safety Insurance will not be deemed a PFIC by the IRS. If American Safety Insurance were considered a PFIC, it could have material adverse tax consequences for an investor that is subject to U.S. federal income taxation. There are currently no regulations regarding the application of the PFIC provisions to an insurance company. New regulations or pronouncements interpreting or clarifying these rules may be forthcoming. We cannot predict what impact, if any, that guidance would have on an investor that is subject to U.S. federal income taxation.
American Safety Insurance Holdings, Ltd., American Safety Re, American Safety Assurance and Ordinance Holdings, Limited may become subject to Bermuda taxes in the future.
Bermuda currently imposes no income taxes on corporations. American Safety Insurance, American Safety Re and American Safety Assurance have received an assurance from the Bermuda Minister of Finance, under the Exempted Undertakings Tax Protection Act 1966 of Bermuda, as amended (the “Tax Protection Act”), that if any legislation is enacted in Bermuda that would impose tax computed on profits or income, or computed on any capital asset, gain or appreciation, or any tax in the nature of estate duty or inheritance tax, then the imposition of the tax will not be applicable to American Safety Insurance, American Safety Re or American Safety Assurance until March 28, 2016. No assurance can be given that American Safety Insurance, American Safety Re or American Safety Assurance will not be subject to any Bermuda tax after that date.
The impact of Bermuda’s letter of commitment to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to eliminate harmful tax practices is uncertain and could adversely affect the Bermuda tax status of American Safety Insurance, American Safety Re, and American Safety Assurance.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (the “OECD”) has published reports and launched a global dialogue among member and non-member countries on measures to limit harmful tax competition. These measures are largely directed at counteracting the effects of tax havens and preferential tax regimes in countries around the world. In the OECD’s report dated April 18, 2002 and updated as of June 2004, Bermuda was not listed as an uncooperative tax haven jurisdiction because it had previously committed to eliminate harmful tax practices and to embrace international tax standards for transparency, exchange of information and the elimination of any aspects of the regimes for financial and other services that attract business with no substantial domestic activity. We are not able to predict what changes will arise from the commitment or whether these changes will subject us to additional taxes.
Risk Factors Relating to the Property and Casualty Insurance Industry
Policy pricing in our industry is cyclical, and our financial results are impacted by that cyclicality.
The property and casualty insurance industry has historically been a cyclical industry consisting of both “hard market” periods and “soft market” periods. The excess and surplus lines market historically has tended to move in response to the underwriting cycles in the standard insurance market. Hard market periods are characterized by shortages of underwriting capacity, limited availability of capital, less competition and higher premium rates. Typically, during hard markets, as rates increase and coverage terms become more restrictive, business shifts from the standard insurance market to the excess and surplus lines market as standard insurance market carriers rely on traditional underwriting techniques and focus on their core business lines. In soft markets, business shifts from the excess and surplus lines market to the standard insurance market as standard insurance market carriers tend to loosen underwriting standards and seek to expand market share by moving into business lines traditionally characterized as “surplus lines.”
Our industry is subject to significant and increasing regulatory scrutiny.
In recent years, the insurance industry has been subject to a significant and increasing level of scrutiny by various regulatory bodies, including state attorneys general and insurance departments, concerning certain practices within the insurance industry. These practices include the receipt of contingent commissions by insurance brokers and agents from insurance companies and the extent to which this compensation has been disclosed, bid rigging and related matters. As a result of these and related matters, there have been a number of recent revisions to existing, or proposals to modify or enact new, laws and regulations regarding the relationship between insurance companies and producers. Any changes or further requirements that are adopted by federal, state or local governments could adversely affect our business and operating results.
We operate in a heavily regulated industry, and existing and future regulations may constrain how we conduct our business and could impose liabilities and other obligations upon us.
Insurance Regulation. Our primary insurance and reinsurance subsidiaries, as well as our non-subsidiary risk retention group affiliate, are subject to regulation under applicable insurance statutes of the jurisdictions in which they are domiciled or licensed and write insurance. This regulation may limit our ability to, or speed with which we can, effectively respond to market opportunities and may require us to incur significant annual regulatory compliance expenditures. Insurance regulation is intended to provide safeguards for policyholders rather than to protect shareholders of insurance companies. Insurance regulation relates to authorized business lines, capital and surplus requirements, types and amounts of investments, underwriting limitations, trade practices, policy forms, claims practices, mandated participation in shared markets, loss reserve adequacy, insurer solvency, transactions with related parties, changes in control, payment of dividends and a variety of other financial and non-financial components of an insurance company’s business. For instance, our insurance subsidiaries are subject to risk-based capital, or RBC, restrictions. RBC is a method of measuring the amount of capital appropriate for an insurance company to support its overall business in light of its size and risk profile. The ratio of a company’s actual policyholder surplus to its minimum capital requirements will determine whether any state regulatory action is required. State regulatory authorities use the RBC formula to identify insurance companies which may be undercapitalized and may require further regulatory attention. Each of our domestic insurance subsidiaries satisfies its minimum capital requirements and none of them is identified by any regulatory authority as being undercapitalized or requiring further regulatory attention. A number of legislative initiatives currently are under consideration by Congress. Any changes in insurance laws and regulations could materially adversely affect our operating results. We are unable to predict what additional laws and regulations, if any, affecting our business may be promulgated in the future or how they might be interpreted.
Dividend Regulation. Like other insurance holding companies, American Safety Insurance relies on dividends from its insurance subsidiaries to be able to pay dividends and fulfill its other financial obligations. The payment of dividends by these subsidiaries and other intercompany transactions are subject to regulatory restrictions and will depend on the surplus and earnings of these subsidiaries. As a result, insurance holding companies may not be able to receive dividends from their subsidiaries at times and in amounts sufficient to pay dividends and fulfill their other financial obligations. Additionally, as a Bermuda holding company, American Safety Insurance is subject to Bermuda regulatory constraints that will affect its ability to pay dividends on the Common Shares and to make other payments. Under the Companies Act 1981, of Bermuda (“the Companies Act”) insurance holding companies may declare or pay a dividend out of distributable reserves only if it has reasonable grounds to believe that it is, and would after the payment be, able to pay liabilities as they become due and if the realizable value of its assets would thereby not be less than the aggregate of its liabilities and issued share capital and share premium accounts. We do not anticipate paying cash dividends on the Common Shares in the near future.
Environmental Regulation. Environmental remediation activities and other environmental risks are heavily regulated by both federal and state governments. Environmental regulation is continually evolving, and changes in the regulatory patterns at federal and state levels may have a significant effect upon potential claims against our insureds and us. These changes also may affect the demand for the types of insurance offered by and through us and the availability or cost to us of reinsurance. We are unable to predict what additional laws and regulations, if any, affecting environmental remediation activities and other environmental risks may be promulgated in the future, how they might be applied, and what their impact might be.
The risk factors presented above are all of the ones that we consider to be material as of the date of this annual report on Form 10-K. However, they are not the only risks facing the company. Additional risks not presently known to us, or which we consider immaterial based on our current knowledge or understanding, may also adversely affect us. There may be risks that a particular investor views differently than we do, and our analysis may be incorrect. If any of the risks that we face actually occurs, our business, financial
condition and operating results could be materially adversely affected and could differ materially from any possible results suggested by any forward-looking statements that we have made or may make. We expressly disclaim any obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise, except as may be required by law.
Item 1B. Unresolved Staff Comments
Our offices are located at 31 Queen Street, 2nd Floor, Hamilton, Bermuda, and the telephone number is (441) 296-8560. The principal corporate offices of our U.S. subsidiaries are located at 100 Galleria Parkway, Suite 700, Atlanta, Georgia 30339, and the telephone number is (770) 916-1908.
The Company, through its subsidiaries, are routinely party to pending or threatened litigation or arbitration disputes in the normal course of or related to its business. Based upon information presently available, in view of legal and other defenses available to our subsidiaries, management does not believe that any pending or threatened litigation or arbitration disputes will have any material adverse effect on our financial condition or operating results.
Griggs et al. v. American Safety Reinsurance, Ltd. et al., Case No. 2003-31509, Circuit Court, Seventh Judicial District, Volusia County, Florida. Seven plaintiffs filed suit against us and three of our subsidiaries seeking to recover a $2.1 million loan made by the plaintiffs in 1986 to Ponce Marina, Inc., the former owner of the Harbour Village property. The plaintiffs claimed that we were responsible for the repayment of the loan, with interest. The plaintiffs propounded four theories of liability and the court granted summary judgment for us on three of the theories. However, the court entered judgment on August 10, 2005 against us for approximately $3.4 million, which includes interest, on the remaining theory. The court held that we, as a condition of our loan, required Ponce Marina, Inc. to demand that the plaintiffs enter into an agreement with Ponce Marina, Inc., to the detriment of their loans and to our benefit, and thus, we had entered into a quasi-contract with the plaintiffs to repay their loan with interest.
On May 18, 2007, the District Court of Appeals of the State of Florida, Fifth District, reversed the judgment against the Company. The Plaintiffs’ filed a motion for rehearing with the Appeals Court, which was denied by the Court on July 6, 2007. The Plaintiffs’ filed a motion for leave to amend their complaint with the trial court. On September 14, 2007, the trial court issued an order vacating its judgment against the Company, dismissing the Plaintiffs’ claims with prejudice and denying Plaintiffs’ motion for leave to amend. On October 9, 2007, the Plaintiffs’ appealed the denial of their motion for leave to amend. On February 7, 2008, the Plaintiffs filed their initial brief in support of their appeal and an oral argument was held in front of the Fifth District Court of Appeals on October 7, 2008. In November 2008, the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s denial of Plaintiff’s motion for leave to amend. This case is now concluded with no liability on the part of the Company.
No matter was submitted to a vote of the Company’s security holders during the fourth quarter of the fiscal year ended December 31, 2008.
Executive Officers of the Company
The following table provides information regarding the executive officers of the Company. Biographical information for each of such persons is set forth immediately following the table.
Stephen R. Crim became President and Chief Executive Officer of the Company in January 2003. He served as President of the Company’s U.S. insurance operations from January 2002 until April 2008. Previously, Mr. Crim had been responsible for various underwriting functions since joining the Company in 1990. Previously, Mr. Crim was employed in the underwriting department of Aetna Casualty and Surety and The Hartford Insurance Company between 1986 and 1990.
Joseph D. Scollo, Jr. became Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Company in January 2006. He was Executive Vice President of the Company from January 2003 through January 2006 and assumed the role of President of the U.S. insurance operations in April 2008. He was Executive Vice President of the company from January 2003 through January 2006 and was Senior Vice President-Operations since November 1998. Previously, Mr. Scollo served as Senior Vice President-Operations of United Coastal Insurance Company, New Britain, Connecticut between 1989 and 1998.
William C. Tepe became Chief Financial Officer of American Safety Insurance in November 2005. Prior to joining American Safety Insurance, Mr. Tepe was the Chief Financial Officer for GAB Robins Inc., an international insurance claims management and adjusting company. Mr. Tepe has also been employed in senior financial reporting and accounting positions within major property and casualty insurance companies such as W. R. Berkley Corp. and USF&G Corporation. Mr. Tepe is a certified public accountant.
Randolph L. Hutto became General Counsel and Secretary of the Company in September 2006. Prior to joining the Company, Mr. Hutto served as Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary of NDC Health Corporation, a New York Stock Exchange-listed healthcare claims processing and information management company, from April 2004 to January 2006 and as Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer from November 2000 to April 2004.
Item 5. Market for the Registrant’s Common Equity, Related Stockholder Matters and Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities
The Company’s common shares trade on the New York Stock Exchange, Inc. under the symbol “ASI”. As of March 11, 2009, there were approximately 653 holders of the Company’s common shares. The closing price on March 11, 2009 was $9.10.
The following table sets forth the high and low prices per share of the Company’s common shares for the periods indicated.
The Company did not pay any cash dividends during fiscal year 2008 and 2007 and does not intend to pay cash dividends in the foreseeable future. Payment of cash dividends in the future will be periodically reviewed by the Board of Directors. As an insurance holding company, the Company’s ability to pay cash dividends to its shareholders will depend, to a significant degree, on the ability of the Company’s subsidiaries to generate earnings from which to pay cash dividends to American Safety Insurance Holdings, Ltd. The Company’s current plans are for its insurance and reinsurance subsidiaries to principally retain their capital for growth.
The jurisdictions in which American Safety Insurance Holdings, Ltd. and its insurance and reinsurance subsidiaries are domiciled place limitations on the amount of dividends or other distributions payable by insurance companies in order to protect the solvency of insurers. See “Regulatory Environment” in Item 1 of this report.
The Company completed a stock repurchase program for 500,000 shares of the Company’s outstanding common stock on August 12, 2008.
Equity Compensation Plan Information
Item 6. Selected Financial Data
The table on the following page sets forth selected consolidated financial data with respect to the Company for the periods indicated. The balance sheet and statement of operations data have been derived from the audited consolidated financial statements of the Company. This information should be read in conjunction with “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” and the Company’s consolidated financial statements and notes thereto included elsewhere in this Report.
Item 7. Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations
We are a Bermuda-based specialty insurance and reinsurance company that provides customized products and solutions to small and medium-sized businesses in industries that we believe are underserved by the standard market. For over twenty years, we have developed specialized coverages and alternative risk transfer products not generally available to our customers in the standard market because of the unique characteristics of the risks involved and the associated needs of the insureds. We specialize in underwriting these products for insureds with certain environmental, products liability, construction, healthcare and property risks, as well as developing programs for other specialty classes of risks and providing third party reinsurance.
We segregate our business into insurance operations and other, with the insurance operations being further classified into four segments: excess and surplus lines (E&S), alternative risk transfer (ART), assumed reinsurance (Assumed Re) and runoff. E&S is further classified into seven business lines: environmental, construction, products liability, excess, property, surety and healthcare. ART is further classified into two business lines: specialty programs and fully funded. In our Assumed Re segment, the Company assumes specialty property and casualty business from affiliated and unaffiliated insurers and reinsurers. Run-off includes lines of business that we no longer write.
Within the E&S sub segment, our environmental insurance coverages protect against general liability and environmental exposures for contractors and consultants in the environmental remediation industry and property owners. Construction provides commercial general liability insurance, generally for residential and commercial contractors. Products liability offers general liability and product liability coverages for smaller manufacturers and distributors, non-habitational real estate and certain real property owner, landlord and tenant risks. Excess provides excess and umbrella liability coverages over our own and other carriers’ primary casualty polices, with a focus on construction risks. Our property coverage encompasses non-standard, surplus lines commercial property business and commercial multi-peril (CMP) policies. The casualty focus of our CMP products is premises liability. Surety provides payment and performance bonds primarily to the environmental remediation and construction industries. Our healthcare line provides customized liability insurance solutions for long-term care facilities.
In our ART segment, Specialty Programs facilitate the offering of insurance to homogeneous niche groups of risks and we receive a fee for arranging this type of transaction. Our specialty programs consist primarily of casualty insurance coverages for construction contractors, pest control operators, small auto dealers, real estate brokers, restaurant and tavern owners, bail bondsmen and parent/teacher associations. Fully funded policies give our insureds the ability to fund their liability exposure via a self-insurance vehicle. We write fully funded general and professional liability for businesses operating primarily in the healthcare and construction industries.
Our assumed reinsurance segment offers primarily casualty reinsurance products in the form of treaty and facultative contracts. We provide this coverage on an excess of loss and quota share basis. Casualty business includes general casualty, commercial auto, professional liability and workers’ compensation. The Company’s primary focus is traditional and structured reinsurance for small specialty insurers, risk retention groups and captives.
Our runoff segment includes lines of business that we have placed in run-off, such as workers’ compensation, excess liability insurance for municipalities and commercial lines.
The other segment consists of amounts associated with realized gains and losses on investments, certain corporate expenses and real estate operations that were completed in 2005.
The following information is presented on the basis of accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America (“GAAP”) and should be read in conjunction with “Business” and “Risk
Factors,” and our consolidated financial statements and the related notes included elsewhere in this report. All amounts and percentages are rounded.