Disasters strike QBE credit rating

QBE's credit rating has been cut by Moody's due to weaker earnings growth and continuing concerns about the global insurer's debt levels.

QBE's credit rating has been cut by Moody's due to weaker earnings growth and continuing concerns about the global insurer's debt levels.

After QBE's earnings were last year dragged down by natural disasters, Moody's said on Monday it would downgrade QBE's credit rating from A3 to Baa1, with a "negative" outlook, following a review.

Despite the company's moves to slash costs and move away from the acquisition-fuelled growth that occurred under former chief executive Frank O'Halloran, Moody's analyst Alan Murray expressed concerns about its leverage and said the group's exposure to catastrophes was "high" relative to its capital levels.

QBE's earnings in the United States - where it derives about a third of its profit - were also likely to be squeezed by tougher government rules on insurance of troubled mortgages, of which QBE is a key provider.

"The downgrade of the rating primarily reflects the group's weakened earnings, internal capital generation and debt service coverage measures, as well as QBE's sustained elevated financial and operational leverage profile, considered on both a nominal and tangible basis," Mr Murray said.

The cut comes after QBE said in February it would shed about 700 jobs from its operations in Australia, Europe and North America and fill the roles with staff in the Philippines.

Mr Murray acknowledged the company's moves to rein in expenses, but said the changes would be felt gradually.

Despite the downgrade, QBE rose 14ยข, or 1 per cent, to $13.14.

In positive news for QBE, CommSec analyst Ross Curran said its cropping insurance arm in the US was set to benefit from solid revenue growth due to another year of strong crop planting.

QBE is the third-largest provider of crop insurance in the US, but the business has been hit by a jump in claims caused by drought.

Mr Curran said if claims returned to normal levels this year QBE's underwriting business would benefit from a $200 million lift in profits from underwriting.

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