The Globe and Mail

Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Press release from Business Wire

A.M. Best Affirms Ratings of Fairfax Financial Holdings Limited and Most of Its Operating Companies

Thursday, May 03, 2012

A.M. Best Affirms Ratings of Fairfax Financial Holdings Limited and Most of Its Operating Companies10:32 EDT Thursday, May 03, 2012 OLDWICK, N.J. (Business Wire) -- A.M. Best Co. has affirmed the issuer credit rating (ICR) of “bbb” and the unsecured debt and preferred equity ratings of Fairfax Financial Holdings Limited (Fairfax) [TSX: FFH and FFH.U] (Toronto, Canada). Concurrently, A.M. Best has affirmed the financial strength rating (FSR) of A (Excellent) and ICRs of “a” of Northbridge Indemnity Insurance Corporation (NIIC) (formerly Commonwealth Insurance Company) (Vancouver, B.C.), Federated Insurance Company of Canada (Winnipeg, Manitoba), Northbridge Commercial Insurance Corporation (formerly Markel Insurance Company of Canada), Northbridge General Insurance Corporation (formerly Lombard General Insurance Company of Canada) and Zenith Insurance Company. Also, A.M. Best has affirmed the FSR of A- (Excellent) and ICR of “a-”of Northbridge Personal Insurance Corporation (formerly Lombard Insurance Company). In addition, A.M. Best has downgraded the FSR to A- (Excellent) from A (Excellent) and ICR to “a-” from “a” of Commonwealth Insurance Company of America (CICA) (Seattle, WA), a wholly owned subsidiary of NIIC. The aforementioned companies are subsidiaries of Northbridge Financial Corporation (Northbridge Companies), an indirect, wholly owned downstream holding company of Fairfax. All companies are domiciled in Toronto, Ontario, unless otherwise specified. In addition, A.M. Best has affirmed the FSRs of A (Excellent) and ICRs of “a” of the Crum & Forster Insurance Group (C&F) (Morristown, NJ) and Zenith National Insurance Group (Zenith Group) (Woodland Hills, CA) and their property/casualty members. Concurrently, A.M. Best has affirmed the FSR of A (Excellent) and ICRs of “a+” of Seneca Insurance Group (New York, NY) and its property/casualty members. A.M. Best also has downgraded the FSR to A- (Excellent) from A (Excellent) and the ICR to “a-” from “a” of CRC Reinsurance Limited (CRC) and affirmed the FSR of A- (Excellent) and the ICR of “a-” of Wentworth Insurance Company Limited (Wentworth) (both domiciled in Barbados). At the same time, A.M. Best has affirmed the FSRs of B++ (Good) and the ICRs of “bbb” of Fairmont Specialty Group (Manchester, NH), its property/casualty members and General Fidelity Insurance Company (Charleston, SC). Fairmont Specialty Group and its members are no longer associated with the Fairmont Specialty brand, which is used by several C&F rating units. Concurrently, A.M. Best has affirmed the FSR of B+ (Good) and the ICR of “bbb-” of TIG Insurance Company (Manchester, NH). In addition, A.M. Best has downgraded the FSR to B+ (Good) from B++ (Good) and the ICR to “bbb-” from “bbb+” of Clearwater Insurance Company (headquartered in Stamford, CT). The outlook for the ICR has been revised to stable from negative, while the outlook for the FSR is stable. A.M. Best also has affirmed the ICRs of “bbb” and the unsecured debt ratings of Crum & Forster Holdings Corp. (Morristown, NJ) and Zenith National Insurance Corp. (Woodland Hills, CA), both are indirect, wholly owned, downstream holding companies of Fairfax. The outlook for all ratings is stable, except where otherwise specified. (See link below for a detailed listing of the companies and ratings.) The ratings of Fairfax reflect its historical favorable levels of pre-tax operating and net income and the company's financial leverage and cash coverage levels that are within A.M. Best's requirements for its rating level. At December 31, 2011, Fairfax's adjusteddebt-to-total-capital level was 32%, which includes the debt of its subsidiaries that are capable of supporting their own debt. In addition, Fairfax maintained holding company cash and investments of approximately $1.0 billion at year-end 2011. The ratings of the Northbridge Companiesacknowledge their supportive level of risk-adjusted capitalization, highly specialized product orientation, the strength of their respective franchises in the property/casualty market and the broad geographic scope of their operations. The ratings also recognize the implicit support and financial flexibility these companies are afforded through Fairfax. Offsetting these positive rating factors are ongoing competitive market conditions, variability of net investment income in recent years and general decline in underwriting results. The rating actions on CICA reflect its generally below average and variable net underwriting and operating results and management's recent decision to stop writing new business and begin to non-renew all business effective May 1, essentially placing the company into run off. As a result, A.M. Best no longer views CICA as an integral part of NIIC's business; therefore, CICA is no longer afforded NIIC's ratings. Offsetting these negative rating factors are CICA's adequate level of risk-adjusted capitalization and the implicit support and financial flexibility afforded as part of the Fairfax enterprise. The ratings of C&F acknowledge its historically better than average loss and loss adjustment expense ratio, significantly diminished asbestos and environmental exposure (via a recently completed inter-company transaction with an affiliate), diversified product offering, supportive risk-adjusted capitalization and the implicit support and financial flexibility C&F is afforded as part of the Fairfax enterprise. Offsetting these positive rating factors are C&F's elevated underwriting expense levels, which in part has resulted in generally poor underwriting results in recent years, and ongoing competitive pressures in its key markets. The ratings of the Zenith Group recognize its supportive level of risk-adjusted capitalization, historically strong operating performance, management's commitment to maintaining underwriting discipline through market cycles and the implicit support and financial flexibility the Zenith Group is afforded as part of the Fairfax enterprise. Offsetting these positive rating factors are Zenith Group's poor underwriting and operating results in recent years, which were driven by competitive market conditions and rate reductions in its largest states (although rate increases have been noted more recently), along with weak macroeconomic conditions that have contributed to an overall reduction in its premium volumes (despite solid growth in 2011) over the years and areas of prior year adverse reserve development. The concentration of Zenith Group's business in two states, California and Florida, exposes it to a heightened level of regulatory and legislative changes. The rating actions on CRC reflect its recent poor underwriting and operating performance, which is not in line with historical levels, its increased exposure to global property shock losses and limited business profile as an internal reinsurer for affiliates, which is expected to reduce over time. Offsetting these negative rating factors are CRC's adequate level of risk-adjusted capitalization and the implicit support and financial flexibility the company is afforded through Fairfax. The rating actions on Clearwater recognize its diminished risk-adjusted capitalization following its assumption of the asbestos and environmental reserves of C&F. Offsetting this negative rating factor is the implicit support and financial flexibility Clearwater is afforded as part of the Fairfax enterprise. Although A.M. Best believes Fairfax and its operating companies are well positioned at their current rating levels, factors that could lead to negative rating actions include operating performance falling short of A.M. Best's expectations, driven by either underwriting or investment results, or a decline in risk-adjusted capitalization that would no longer support their current ratings. For a complete listing of Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd. and its subsidiaries' FSRs, ICRs and debt ratings, please visit www.ambest.com/press/050302fairfax.pdf. The methodology used in determining these ratings is Best's Credit Rating Methodology, which provides a comprehensive explanation of A.M. Best's rating process and contains the different rating criteria employed in the rating process. Key criteria utilized include: “Risk Management and the Rating Process for Insurance Companies”; “Understanding Universal BCAR”; “Understanding BCAR for Property/Casualty Insurers”; “Rating Members of Insurance Groups”; “Equity Credit for Hybrid Securities”; and “Insurance Holding Company and Debt Ratings.” Best's Credit Rating Methodology can be found at www.ambest.com/ratings/methodology. Founded in 1899, A.M. Best Company is the world's oldest and most authoritative insurance rating and information source. For more information, visit www.ambest.com. Copyright © 2012 by A.M. Best Company, Inc.ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. A.M. Best Co.Darian Ryan, CPA, 908-439-2200, ext. 5449Senior Financial Analystdarian.ryan@ambest.comorMichael J. Lagomarsino, CFA, 908-439-2200, ext. 5810Assistant Vice Presidentmichael.lagomarsino@ambest.comorRachelle Morrow, 908-439-2200, ext. 5378Senior Manager, Public Relationsrachelle.morrow@ambest.comorJim Peavy, 908-439-2200, ext. 5644Assistant Vice President, Public Relationsjames.peavy@ambest.com