At first glance, the newsflow from Argentina's insurance sector through 2013 looks good. However, the reality is more nuanced. The Superentendencia de Seguros de la Nacion (SSN, the regulator) has published an ambitious strategic plan for the development of the overall sector. There has been strong growth in premiums in both the non-life and the life segments. Several companies have highlighted that their Argentine businesses are contributing meaningfully to the development of their regional operations. Some players have confirmed that profitability has been improving.
BMI's new insurance report format provides forecasts of the life and non-life markets, including gross and net premiums, reinsurance premiums and assets. Moreover, it provides forecasts for key growth drivers such as vehicle fleet size, demographic factors and private health expenditure. The report also contains a comprehensive breakdown of the non-life insurance market, providing forecasts for motor and transport insurance, property, personal accident, health, general liability and credit insurance. Finally, the new report offers a detailed breakdown of the life and non-life competitive landscapes, covering the top companies present in each segment by premiums and market share.
In the non-life segment, both RSA and Australia's QBE have made acquisitions in the recent past that have given them leadership positions. Overall, we would not be surprised if the process of consolidation continued through 2014. Meanwhile, many of the leading local groups continue to benefit from their associations with government-backed financial institutions, from the support of policy-holders who see their own interests as being closely aligned with mutual insurers, and/or strong brand names.
In both of the major segments, premiums have in the recent past been distorted by the high inflation in Argentina (officially 10-11% but widely recognised as being between two and three times as high).
However, it appears that many of the companies in the non-life segment have pricing power. Partly for this reason, they have been - and will remain - largely immune to the downturn in sales of autos in Argentina. Sales of cars and other vehicles matter: auto-related lines generate nearly half of all premiums written in the non-life segment. Comments from the companies themselves suggest to us that, for most of them, growth in the recent past has been profitable. We expect that this will continue to be the case.
We think that the apparent size and importance of the life segment has been expanded by inflation in wages and salaries. This is because Argentina's life segment is dominated by group life products, for which premiums/contributions are generally linked to nominal wages. We see no sign of an imminent resolution to the main challenge facing life insurance companies in Argentina: people lack the essential trust and confidence in long-term savings solutions. Past financial crises and investor-unfriendly (but politically expedient) decisions by governments, including the current administration, have constrained the development of financial services generally.
Key BMI forecasts:
- Total gross premiums will fall by 3.5% to US$12.5bn in 2014.
- In the life segment, gross premiums will fall by 13.1% to US$2.0bn.
- In the non-life segment, premiums will slip by 1.7% to US$10.5bn.
- Within the non-life segment, motor insurance premiums will fall by 2.7% to US$4.4bn.
- Property insurance premiums will expand by 5.1% to US$0.8bn.