Hastings posts higher written premiums, but warns of competition

(Reuters) - Hastings Group Holdings Plc HSTG.L reported a rise in gross written premiums for the first nine months on Thursday, as cost of motor insurance policies rose in Britain, but the insurer warned of continuing competition.

The company, which operates mainly in the auto insurance market, said claims inflation was expected to continue to be higher than premium inflation and cut its loss ratio forecast to the lower end of its 75 percent to 79 percent target range.

“The group expects to maintain its disciplined pricing strategy in the ongoing competitive market that is likely to continue for the rest of the year,” Hastings said.

British insurers have been hit by claims resulting from extreme weather, including a hot summer and a late winter freeze, dubbed the “Beast from the East”.

But the cost of a comprehensive motor insurance policy rose for the first time in 12 months for the third quarter in Britain, a survey showed last week, bringing respite to the highly competitive market.

Prices had been pushed down ahead of expected changes in the Odgen rate, used to calculate compensation for personal injuries and the Civil Liability Bill, which includes reforms likely to reduce claims for whiplash injuries. A reduction in the volume of claims also kept a lid on prices.

This fall, however, was difficult to sustain because of ongoing pressures on repair costs, uncertainty surrounding the bill and changes to the Ogden rate.

Gross written premiums rose to 738.5 million pounds, in the nine months ended Sept. 30, from 714.3 million pounds reported a year earlier, said Hastings, which offers motor and home insurance, and premium financing and ancillary products.

Hastings, which focuses on selling insurance products through price comparison websites and competes with Admiral Group ADML.L, RSA Insurance RSA.L, Direct Line DLGD.L and esure ESUR.L, reported a 30 basis points rise in its market share to 7.5 percent as of Sept. 30.

Reporting by Muvija M and Noor Zainab Hussain in Bengaluru; Editing by Amrutha Gayathri