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Chubb Corp (CB) Q4 2018 Earnings Conference Call Transcript

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Chubb Corp  (NYSE: CB)
Q4 2018 Earnings Conference Call
Feb. 06, 2019, 8:30 a.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Good day, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Chubb Limited Fourth Quarter Year-End 2018 Earnings Conference Call. Today's call is being recorded. There will be a question-and-answer session at the end of today's prepared remarks (Operator Instructions).

For opening remarks and introductions, I would like to turn the conference over to your host, Karen Beyer, Investor Relations. Please go ahead.

Karen Beyer -- Senior Vice President, Investor Relations

Thank you, and welcome to our December 31, 2018 fourth quarter and year-end earnings conference call. Our report today will contain forward-looking statements, including statements relating to Company's performance and growth, pricing and business mix, and economic market conditions which are subject to risks and uncertainties. And actual results may differ materially.

Please see our recent SEC filings, earnings release, and financial supplement, which are available on our website at investors.chubb.com for more information on in factors that could affect these matters. We will also refer to non-GAAP financial measures. Reconciliations of which to the most direct comparable GAAP measures and related details are provided in our earnings press release and financial supplement.

Now, it's my pleasure to introduce our speakers this morning. First, we have Evan Greenberg, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, followed by Phil Bancroft, our Chief Financial Officer. We'll then take your questions. Also with us today to assist with your questions are several members of our management team.

And now, I will turn the call over to Evan.

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning. As you saw from the numbers, we reported core operating income in the fourth quarter of $2.02 per share. The quarter was marked by greater volatility from elevated natural catastrophes around the world from a variety of perils and from increased property loss activity in the US. On the other hand, we had strong premium revenue growth, enjoyed improved commercial P&C pricing globally, and produced record net investment income.

Core operating income was $935 million, and included $506 million of after-tax CAT losses compared with the $1.5 billion of income last year, which included a tax benefit of $450 million and CATs of $331 million. Simply to give you a sense of underlying strength, excluding CATs and the tax benefit, core operating income per share in the quarter was up 6.5% over prior.

Our published P&C combined ratio was 93.1% and included 8.5 points of CATs on the combined. On the current accident year basis, excluding CATs, the combined with 88.3% versus 86.4% prior year. The accident year was impacted in the quarter by elevated large loss activity in our US commercial property portfolio in both our major account and E&S businesses, as well as in our middle market division, and this added about 1.4 points to our combined ratio. From what we can see, this is simply volatility or variability and a short period result, not a trend.

We also continue to experience elevated losses on our US homeowners book, which we have discussed in some detail with you. We are on track with the pricing, product and underwriting strategies that we outlined on last quarter's call. Given the state-by-state regulatory nature of this business, it will take some time to show through in the results on a run rate basis.

On the plus side of short tail activity, our combined ratio in the quarter included a strong contribution from our crop insurance business, as well as positive pre-tax prior period reserve development, which benefited by a $130 million from a one-time reinsurance settlement in our legacy A&E run off liabilities.

Premium revenue growth in the quarter was 5.8% in constant dollars, and FX then had a negative impact of 1.6 points, bringing the published growth to over 4%. The pricing environment overall improved over the third quarter in a number of our businesses. And this momentum continued into January with much better tone in actual rate movement compared to the fourth quarter prior year. In fact, in terms of price movement globally, this was the best and most broad based quarter of the year and the best in several years. We are also seeing more dislocation in certain markets and that means opportunity.

For the full year, our growth was 4.4%. Geo-economic environment notwithstanding, I expect we will at a minimum maintain that range in constant dollars and with some natural variability quarter-to-quarter. There is a great deal of optimism and positive energy across the Company. Net investment income in the quarter was $903 million, was up about 3.5% and contributed to net investment income for the year of $3.6 billion, both were records. Our results are being driven by strong positive cash flow and higher reinvestment rates that now exceed our current book yield and are beginning to benefit from an improving interest rate environment.

Core operating income for the year was $4.4 billion or $9.44 per share, up 18% on a per share basis from '17. Earnings were split between P&C underwriting income of $2.6 billion and adjusted pre-tax investment income of $3.6 billion. For your information, pre-tax CAT losses for the year were $1.6 billion, about $700 million more than we planned for when calculating our expected CAT amount. Our earnings led to a core operating ROE of 8.7% for the year, or 9.8% on an expected CAT basis. For the year, the P&C combined ratio was 90.6% compared to 94.7% prior. And on a current accident year basis, excluding CATSs, the combined ratio for the year was 88% versus 87.6% prior year.

Book value per share was down about 0.5% and tangible book per share was flat, unfavorably impacted by the mark-to-market effect of rising interest rates and foreign exchange. Adjusting for the mark, book and tangible per share were up 2.7% and 5.8% respectively. Phil will have more to say about investment income, book value CATs and prior period development.

Turning to growth and market conditions; commercial P&C pricing and underwriting for the business we wrote in the quarter was as good or better than what we saw in the third quarter and overall for the year and materially better than this time last year. The industry, and Chubb is no exception, is experiencing margin pressure in numerous classes and an improving rate environment particularly in the US and the London wholesale market is important. I hope it continues to improve and spread, because rate is needed in other markets.

I mentioned that the opening that we began to see some signs of dislocation on the margin in the market, as some carriers curb their appetite for certain lines of business by reduced line sizes or exiting from markets all together, that's another market -- marker of a firming or market correction.

In North America, the positive pricing trend in the third quarter continued. In fact, improved in several areas, particularly in our major accounts retail and E&S wholesale divisions. Overall rates in North America were up about 2.5%, same as last quarter, while renewal price change, which includes exposure was up 4%. Retention of our customers remain strong across all of our North America commercial and personal P&C businesses. Renewal retention is measured by premium of nearly 92%.

In major accounts and specialty, which doesn't include agriculture, premiums were up 5%. Rates for major accounts were up over 3%, with risk management rates up less than 1%, while excess casualty rates were up 10%, property was up 12% and public D&O was up 8.5%. In our Westchester specialty business, rates were up 4.5%. In our North American middle market and small commercial business, premiums overall were up -- over 4.5% in the quarter, our best growth in many quarters.

New business was up almost 14% with a meaningful percentage of that coming from growth initiatives. Renewal retention in our middle market business was 90%. Middle market pricing, which includes rate and exposure change was up 2.5%.

In our US small commercial business, premium revenue continued its positive growth momentum with net premiums up almost 30%. In our North America personal lines business net premiums in the quarter declined 2.5%. In the quarter, we added California to our existing homeowners quota share treaty effective 10/01. And this impacted growth by 4.2 points.

Excluding premiums paid to reinsurers, premiums were up 2.3%. Retention remained very strong at about 96%. Homeowners pricing was up 7.5% in the quarter, which included again both rate and exposure change. Our North American agriculture business had a very good year, highlighted by a full-year combined ratio of 75.5%, which was about flat with prior of 74%. Our crop insurance business is a great franchise and we are the clear leaders.

Turning to our overseas general insurance operations at $10 billion business. As I mentioned, we experienced excellent growth this quarter in our international P&C division. Net premiums written for our international retail division were up 8% in constant dollars and FX then had a negative impact of 4.5 points. This compared favorably to year-to-date constant dollar growth of about 6%. Growth was broad-based. Asia-Pacific and Latin America grew 10% and 8.5% respectively, while the Continent was up over 5%, and UK/Ireland was up 4%.

We benefited from our growth initiatives and improved price environment in certain markets, particularly London and Australia. Net premiums for our commercial P&C lines overall, international retail were up 8.5% in the quarter with strong growth in particular coming from our middle market and small commercial initiatives. Net premiums for our London market wholesale business were up 12% in the quarter in constant dollars. This business is growing again on the back of improved pricing after several years of shrinking. It's an excellent example of how Chubb is nimble and can quickly take advantage of changing and dynamic market conditions.

As for pricing conditions outside the US, rates in our international retail and London wholesale business varied by line and by country. Overall rates in our retail were up 4%, the best in some time, though concentrated in a few countries and lines of business. For example, property was up 5% and professional lines were up 7%. Rates in our London wholesale business were up 10%. International personal lines premiums were up 8.5% in constant dollar, driven again by Asia and Latin America with growth of 19.5% and 9.5% respectively.

And finally on our Asia life insurance business had an excellent year with premium revenue of $2.4 billion and earnings of over $100 million. John Keogh, John Lupica, Paul Krump, Juan Andrade, and Ed Clancy can provide further color on the quarter, including current market conditions and pricing trends.

In summary, Chubb performed quite well despite a quarter of greater short tail volatility. We have a good momentum and it's continuing to build in terms of executing on our growth initiatives and taking advantage of an improving pricing and underwriting environment in the US, London and a few important territories. Our organization is optimistic about the year ahead and we are off to a good start.

With that, I'll turn it over to Phil, and then we are going to come back and take your questions.

Philip V. Bancroft -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thank you, Evan. We completed the year with a strong balance sheet and an excellent overall financial position with total capital of over $63 billion. Even with significant catastrophe loss payments, our operating cash flow was quite strong at $1.6 billion for the quarter and $5.5 billion for the year. During the quarter, we returned $654 million to shareholders, including $336 million in dividends and $318 million in share repurchases. For the year, we returned over $2.3 billion to shareholders equaling 54% of our earnings, including over $1.3 billion in dividends and over $1 billion in share repurchases.

Also during the year, we issued $2.2 billion of debt in the European market, paid off $1 billion of debt that matured throughout the year and redeemed $1 billion of hybrid securities, which together reduced our annual interest expense run rate by approximately $47 million. Net realized and unrealized losses for the quarter were $958 million after-tax,, which included $383 million of losses in the investment portfolio, reflecting the widening of credit spreads on corporate fixed income securities late in the quarter, partially offset by declining interest rates.

Since December 31, the mark-to-market gain on the portfolio is in excess of $900 million. We also had unrealized losses of $205 million, related to the annual review of our retirement benefit plans, a mark-to-market loss of $263 million on our variable annuity portfolio principally, driven by decline in the equity markets and a $95 million loss from FX. Since December 31st, the mark on the VA portfolio is a gain of $65 million.

Since, the Chubb acquisition, we have reduced our dilution on tangible book value per share from 29% to 9%, an improvement of 20 percentage points. Since December 31, the dilution improved to 6% based on market movements in the portfolio.

If we had included the fair value mark on our private equity portfolio in our operating income as others do, core operating ROE for the year would have been 9.5% compared to the reported 8.7%. Our adjusted net investment income for the quarter was above our expected range due principally to higher private equity distributions and higher reinvestment rates. While there are a number of factors that impact the variability in investment income, including interest rates and private equity distributions. We now expect our quarterly adjusted net investment income to be in the range of $880 million to $890 million.

We had favorable prior period development in the quarter of $253 million pre-tax, or $202 million after tax. This includes pre-tax favorable prior period development from our legacy run-off exposures of $22 million, comprising adverse development of $108 million, principally related to asbestos offset by a favorable reinsurance settlement of $130 million. The remaining favorable development of $231 million was split approximately 60% from long tail lines, principally accident years 2013 and prior, and 40% from short tail lines.

On a constant dollar basis, net loss reserves decreased $661 million for the year, reflecting the impact of catastrophe loss payments and the impact of favorable prior period development. On a reported basis, the paid-to-incurred ratio was 102% for the year. After adjusting for the items noted above, the paid-to-incurred ratio was 93%. Our core operating effective tax rate for the quarter was 17.1%, driven in part by catastrophe losses, which were incurred in lower tax jurisdictions as previously disclosed.

Our full year operating effective tax rate was 14.4% in line with our range of 13% to 15%. For 2019, we expect our annual core operating effective tax rate to be in the range of 14% to 16%. There has been a report that the tax deductibility of our intercompany debt will be affected by the provisions of the tax law that impact hybrid debt, that is not true.

I'll now turn the call back over to Karen.

Karen Beyer -- Senior Vice President, Investor Relations

Thank you. And at this point, we are happy to take your questions.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

Thank you. (Operator Instructions) We'll hear first from Kai Pan from Morgan Stanley. Please go ahead, sir.

Kai Pan -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Yeah. Thank you, and good morning. Evan you mentioned that the large -- a large property loss in commercial line you considered one-off. Can you give us a little bit more details what gives you a confidence that it is a one off rather than a trend?

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Well just be confident. It's -- that is just a variability -- that was a variability of frequency in North America, larger losses in a very short period of time. I mean, it's just a deviation and it wasn't a huge number of losses, but it has an impact. And there is nothing we see in the underwriting that leads us to believe there's nothing we see in data that leads us to believe that's a trend. It's just -- you can have quarter-to-quarter volatility and we had more volatility. So, that's what I can tell you.

And beyond that, we've been -- short tail lines need rate and we have been achieving rate all year. Actually began in '17, and that continues into the first quarter and that too has an ameliorating impact. And in fact, we're achieving rate that achieves or exceeds trend. So that's all beneficial.

Kai Pan -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Okay. Great. My second question on the catastrophe losses. You mentioned that without catastrophe your ROE would have been 9.8% for the year versus 8.7%. So, my calculation points probably implies a 4 points of normal CAT load. I just want to make sure my math is right and also given the elevated losses last two (ph) year, do you think that's still a good run rate going forward? Are you taking any actions in terms of reinsurance coverage, potentially could have mitigate the CAT exposure?

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Well, we're constantly managing our portfolio and it's dynamic in terms of how we protect. So, I'm not going to give any forward-looking on that, but that's something that we constantly are engaged in Kai. And as far as what to expect, look we work on a longer-range period than just a couple of years and looking on -- looking at what's expected CAT. So the last two years have been elevated. People have short memories.

I'll remind you that the four to five years prior to that had far lower CATs and yet we don't adjust the number of expected down to that you're using a longer-term average 10, 15 years. The most recent years become a part of that average. And so, they reflect that experience for both modeled and the way you project non-modeled loss and put a factor on that as well. And, so that's what informs how we look at CAT loss over a longer period and so it has more stability to the expected number. It's just editorialized once step further to imagine that well, the last two years, now climate change has arrived and boy this is the new normal.

Well, what would you have said about the four or five years prior to that? I think it's simplistic thinking to imagine on that way -- on that basis. I think longer term averages have a bit more stability to them, it's sort of like the same as looking at a orderly result variability in short tail versus looking at the annual current accident year number, which is a far more incredible number.

Kai Pan -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Thank you so much for the insights.

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

You're welcome.

Operator

We'll hear next from Mike Zaremski from Credit Suisse.

Michael Zaremski -- Credit Suisse -- Analyst

Thanks, good morning. And a follow up to the question on the CAT load. Given there was a merger that took place do you know -- can you tell us what your 10 to 15-year average has been, because the math -- some of us have done here points to these, the 10 to 15 year average being 30% or so above what your expectation was in 2018 in terms of the CAT load?

Philip V. Bancroft -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Well, I don't know what your math is, I can't -- I can't comment on that. I only know how we do our own math and to imagine model to non-modeled loss. So, what I can do is on this call engage in, here's my math versus your math.

Michael Zaremski -- Credit Suisse -- Analyst

Okay. I can follow-up with that.

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

But you're free to call us and tell us some about your math and while some of this we disclose, some we don't, we'll discuss it with you.

Michael Zaremski -- Credit Suisse -- Analyst

Okay. All right. Great. I'll follow up with on that. And so my next question is regarding the relationship of commercial P&C pricing versus loss trends. We always appreciate your current ...

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

By the way, I'm confident in -- by the way, I'm confident in my maths than your math.

Philip V. Bancroft -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

I just thought I'd put that out to you, but go ahead.

Michael Zaremski -- Credit Suisse -- Analyst

Okay. That's fair. So yeah, regarding the pricing versus loss trend on the commercial side, we're always trying to parse whether you feel the clearly improving rate environment is largely due to just the industry reacting to higher loss trends or do you feel that Chubb could potentially see some margin improvement if the commercial rates environment kind of hovers around the current levels?

Philip V. Bancroft -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

No, I don't see an improvement.

Michael Zaremski -- Credit Suisse -- Analyst

Okay. That's a simple answer. And maybe one quick follow-up today at some is number (Multiple Speakers) that's fair. If I can set one more in, a lot of management teams, including yourself have talked about a more legal -- active legal bar and some teams have also talked about the rise of third-party capital-backing lawsuits, some people call litigation finance or funding. Do you think that's having -- that asset class is having an impact on the insurance industry's loss trends?

Philip V. Bancroft -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

On the margin. I think only on the margin.

Michael Zaremski -- Credit Suisse -- Analyst

Thank you.

Philip V. Bancroft -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

You're welcome.

Operator

(Operator Instructions) We'll hear next from Elyse Greenspan from Wells Fargo.

Elyse Greenspan -- Wells Fargo Securities -- Analyst

Hi, good morning. My first question is going back to where Kai was asking about the higher non-CAT property losses in commercial lines. I know you made the comment that it seemed just due to the variability to be a one-off quarter. Did you see non-CAT property elevated in any of the other quarters of '18? And then, could you also give us a sense -- I know it's only one month and we're just into February, do you have a sense that the level of losses reverted back to normal in January?

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Well, January is only one -- yeah, the answer on January is yes, but Jesus it's one month and hardly a credible period. And to answer your other question, it was -- basically fourth quarter, we saw a little bit in late third quarter occur and then it was fourth quarter. And January, sure -- that's a fool's game, and by the way Elyse you really -- when you're looking at something like property and let's keep in perspective. We write what in North America about $4 billion -- sorry?

Philip V. Bancroft -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

2.8.

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

About $2.4 billion of property business. So a very large portfolio. We have a lot of experience with it. Variability quarter-to-quarter is not that unusual. Obviously, it's a short period of time, it's not that credible. The annual period is far more credible. But anyway, I think I've answered your questions and please don't take one month of January better. It was -- it's a month.

Elyse Greenspan -- Wells Fargo Securities -- Analyst

Yeah, no I guess that, that was helpful. And then in terms of homeowners, you guys are -- you pointed to in your prepared remarks it takes time for -- with the states to get the rates into the system. Would you expect to start to see the margin improve in the first quarter? Or is that something that we should start to think about seeing more of the underlying margin improvement coming later in 2019?

Philip V. Bancroft -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

We were pretty clear when we talked about it in the third quarter to you, that it would be something in the latter part of '19 we should begin to see a come through on a run rate basis, all things being equal.

Elyse Greenspan -- Wells Fargo Securities -- Analyst

Okay. And then my last on numbers question. You guys bought more reinsurance timely for on in California this year at the start of the quarter. Can you give us a sense of your gross losses for the California fires? And then how did the gross loss in 2018 compared to the gross losses that you guys saw from the fires in '17?

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, we're -- we didn't and it was -- it was really a miscommunication in here. We didn't publish a CAT page. But we're going to give you a CAT page and put one out to you, so you can see by CAT how it breaks down. And we're giving you the net. The gross number is not applicable really to an investor's view of the Company. That is what is impacts our balance sheet and financial statement. And so, we will give you what you need for that.

Elyse Greenspan -- Wells Fargo Securities -- Analyst

Okay. Thank you very much.

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

You're welcome.

Operator

We'll here next from Paul Newsome from Sandler O'Neill.

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning, Paul.

Paul Newsome -- Sandler O'Neill -- Analyst

Good morning. I was hoping you could maybe just add on to the high net worth environment. You still seem to have (inaudible) seem to have still a large number of new entrants into that market. I'm just interested if there's been any really change in a competitive environment seeing how -- it does feel like there's a lot of folks that are announcing new efforts.

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, I'll ask Paul Krump to comment on that. From my point of view, we don't see a change of any consequence in the competitive environment over the last year. It's pretty stable that way. You are getting -- you get new entrants who come in and they're particularly in the mass affluent category, not the true high net worth. They don't have the coverages and the services and the capabilities to really manage that market. And when they come in, they got one thing to offer. In a segment of the market that is -- I would say in some ways it's the price sensitive end of the market and there, where coverage matters or service matters less, they have one way in and that's to under price the business. And -- but we've seen that for a while, and it's been on the -- it's on the margin. But, Paul, you want to add?

Paul J. Krump -- Executive Vice President

Evan I agree with everything you just said. Just to try to put some more color around it. Our retention in the homeowners and PRS space is 96% that's actually even better on the high net worth, the real wealthy homes, what we call premier and signature. So we do lose a couple of customers through (inaudible) and we're trying to figure how to stop that but can't. So I can't -- maybe on two hands I could count the number of accounts that we've lost any new entrants in the last 12 months. They are definitely going after the low end of the market. And if you look at the writings, I think you'd be shocked at how little traction they're getting in the market. It really is a service game and agents and brokers are very conscious of that. It's not just a one-off firewalls, they worry about -- they worry about what happens in the big capitals and then their hundreds if not thousands of claims to handle.

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

And I would say this, we don't -- we're not arrogant about it, we're not rushed about it. It's like everything else in the world, service has to constantly improve, your standards of service must constantly improve. Coverages have to constantly improve. You got to be able to offer more choice to customer, some who want to buy a full boat of coverage, and some who want to buy something a little lighter and you've got to be able to do this in a digital world with the customer service and experience that represents that. And the same thing with marketing and sales. And we're continuing to iterate and the crank up our capabilities and all of those areas because we think there is and remains a large opportunity in this marketplace.

Paul Newsome -- Sandler O'Neill -- Analyst

And second. I wanted to ask about the accident and health business, we haven't talked about that in quite sometime. At one point, it was a huge focus for the old Chubb to have it. I think as much as 25% of the revenue coming ...

Philip V. Bancroft -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

I think you may nay (ph) itself.

Paul Newsome -- Sandler O'Neill -- Analyst

Probably, you're right. And I was curious about, is it still an idea to have -- a goal to have that kind of high percentage of the -- in each business -- in the combined -- the new combined entity?

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. You know, when you look at, which I know you did, our investor deck and you look at growth lines and I believe from memory 31% on that pie-chart that would grow high-single to double-digit, you saw the accident and health business as one of those areas of business. And in Asia and Latin America, and in North America, in particular, the growth rate is improving in that business and we'll continue to improve in '19. And a lot of the distribution that we have -- deals that we have made over the last year, including what we just announced is Banco de Chile will directly benefit that accident and health business. And so, it is a growth area for the Company. And on our objective is to increase because if it's growing at high-single to double-digit, it will increase -- continue to increase as a percentage of our total business.

Because it's a specialty and a capability of ours, it's deep in our DNA. And by the way, whether it is in the combined in the US, where we reinvented in our -- growing our worksite benefits business, it's now $150 million premium from nothing, it's growing at serious double-digit to serving the lower-middle income through Grab, which is the largest -- which is the Uber of Southeast Asia or DBS' customers or Banamex's customers or Banco de Chile or many other sponsors that we have on a direct marketing and digital basis, it's the full boat.

Paul Newsome -- Sandler O'Neill -- Analyst

Great. Thank you. Congrats on the quarter.

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you very much.

Operator

Moving next to Yaron Kinar from Goldman Sachs. Please go ahead.

Yaron Kinar -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Good morning, everybody. Two questions on North America commercial. So the first, I just wanted to confirm that the 1.4% impact from diverse property claims experience or loss experience that's consolidated, right?

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Consolidated.

Philip V. Bancroft -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Well, we booked on total P&C.

Yaron Kinar -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Total P&C? Sorry, OK.

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. Sorry, sorry. Yeah on total P&C. We repost the number.

Yaron Kinar -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

So, if my math is correct, it would suggest that the accident year loss ratio, excluding the elevated property office actually improved year-over-year. And if that is correct, can you maybe talk about what's led to that improvement? Is it earned rates? Is it something else that's driving that?

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Are you saying the accident year loss ratio on the total business?

Yaron Kinar -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

No, on North America commercial, excluding the property deterioration.

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Excluding the property deterioration. And are you looking at the combined ratio or the loss ratio?

Yaron Kinar -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

The accident year loss ratio for North America commercial.

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. We'll take that offline with you and go through that with you. I'm not sure, I'm completely relating to that number. The way you're saying it and we'd be very modest.

Yaron Kinar -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Okay.

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

And it would be likely mix related. But before I jump to that, we will take that offline with you and go right through with you.

Yaron Kinar -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Okay. Thank you. I appreciate that. And then my second question on North America commercial. In your comments you talked about the rate increases. Sounds to me like you may be actually leading the rate increases here, maybe a little bit above industry here. And if that is the case, would you expect that to impact the growth -- the topline growth over the next few quarters as maybe the industry tries to catch up?

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Well, a couple of things. One, the industry -- you saw it is -- I would glue it together this way. You saw the fourth quarter growth rate. And in January, our growth relative to our own plans was good. And we were on or over or exceeded our plan in the first -- in the month of January. You don't know our plan and we don't disclose it. And we got better rate in January or the same rate varied by line that we -- particularly in North America and in our wholesale business that we saw in the fourth quarter. Now, and our renewal retention is good. So that implies to me the industry environment is improving as well. And you have a couple of things going on. You have not just driving for rate, but you have companies reacting to the loss environment to the pressure by reducing limits in areas or competitors depends on the area withdrawing from a line of business. That starts to that -- that plays with the supply demand part of the dynamic of the market, OK.

So, you're only thinking just in terms of rate. And that's why I was trying to signal that there is more than that going on. But you see our retention rates, you see our business and yet we're pressing for rate adequacy. And anyway, I think that's the best way I can explain it to you.

Yaron Kinar -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Okay. I appreciate it. Thank you.

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

You're welcome.

Operator

Jay Gelb from Barclays. Your line is open.

Jay Gelb -- Barclays Capital -- Analyst

Thank you. Based on the commentary that Chubb is after a good start in 2019 and if I look back over the past three years, there's a remarkably stable underlying facts in your combined ratio. Given that pricing is improving, should we expect that trend on accident year combined to be the same in 2019, the same or better as 2018?

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Well, I wouldn't look for an improvement. And what I have said is that remarkably stable -- remarkably stable. Rate on some of the business, particularly in short tail is achieving or exceeding trend, which it needs to do, which is beneficial. In long tail lines, it varies. There are many classes where rate is not keeping pace with loss cost trend. We constantly are exercising portfolio management, use reinsurance and mix -- and so therefore, mix of business to balance it. But you know, this is a risk business. And I wouldn't imagine and I don't imagine that you just pick up a combined ratio and that's a static number. It has variability around it. And so, I would say what you see is, what you get within a reasonable range of deviation. That's all.

Jay Gelb -- Barclays Capital -- Analyst

Right of course, OK. And then separately, given the strong operating cash flow for full-year 2018, I believe you said around $5.5 billion. What would you quantifies Chubb's excess capital position as of year-end?

Philip V. Bancroft -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

What we've said is that the impact of the excess capital like on a full year basis was trip about five-tenths of a point off our or 0.5 point I should say of our ROE. So, you can do the math. You got it?

Jay Gelb -- Barclays Capital -- Analyst

I hope so.

Philip V. Bancroft -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

I trust you buddy.

Operator

Mr. Gelb, do you have anything further?

Jay Gelb -- Barclays Capital -- Analyst

No. Thank you.

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Jay.

Operator

We'll hear next from Brian Meredith from UBS.

Brian Meredith -- UBS -- Analyst

Yeah. Thanks. Got couple of quick questions for you. Just first one. Still I'm just curious on tax rate guidance, it looks like it's actually up a little bit on a year-over-year basis. Is there anything to that or it's just mix of business, something else going on geographic?

Paul J. Krump -- Executive Vice President

Yeah, there's two things. One is, in the past two years, we have had some compensated related deductions, and we don't expect -- compensation-related deductions that we don't expect to recur. And we're going to have lower tax-exempt income. We've sold about $4.4 billion of our municipal bond portfolio. And as we look at the after-tax yield, we would expect that some of that will continue. Remember, that doesn't take away from our income, because our after-tax yield is going to be higher -- based on the judgment to sell the munis.

Brian Meredith -- UBS -- Analyst

Got it. Makes sense. And then, I noticed that the administrative expenses on a year-over-year basis were actually down this quarter. Was that FX driven, was there anything else going on?

Paul J. Krump -- Executive Vice President

It's principally just timing. As we look at it, there is nothing specific that I would point to is just going to be variable and it's a timing issue.

Brian Meredith -- UBS -- Analyst

Got you. Great. And just lastly -- on this whole commercial property thing, if I take a look at your North American commercial, I mean, your underlying combined ratio for the year was pretty much flat to down modestly. Is that the way we should kind of think about kind of how the business is kind of performing, you'll have some ups and downs in every quarter I assume?

Paul J. Krump -- Executive Vice President

Well, yes, you should think about it that -- and you can see it, if you look at past years there is a variability. It's a little more in this quarter than it is in the recent quarters. But you will have some variability by the nature of the business, it's a risk business.

Brian Meredith -- UBS -- Analyst

Right.

Paul J. Krump -- Executive Vice President

So that can just happen. And I -- of course, we're underwriters. And we -- when we see a spike in something, we take a pretty close look. We want to know what an early -- what that's telling us and as you know -- if there's something that has changed in our business, or is it just a natural variability that you can see. And, but we more judge than on a longer period. And an annual period of time, it's a more stable measure. Obviously, the one month, three months period. And so again, when we look at those -- we judged it from everything we could see as just a deviation around the mean and the annual was more stable period. And what we -- I expect and it doesn't surprise me, given the nature of the business, it's a risk business that you see some variability.

Brian Meredith -- UBS -- Analyst

Right. Yeah, I just want to make sure, because if you stripped out that...

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

If it was casualty, I got to tell you. I have a whole different view.

Brian Meredith -- UBS -- Analyst

Right. Which makes sense.

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

(Multiple Speakers) just some one-off -- one-off large loss of some comment. But if I saw frequency of casualty that's a whole different story.

Brian Meredith -- UBS -- Analyst

Yeah, that makes sense. Because if you strip out that large loss all of a sudden your underlying combined ratio in North America looks way down on a year-over-year basis. And I just want to make sure that's not the kind of way to model off of.

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, I don't think that's the right way.

Brian Meredith -- UBS -- Analyst

Right.

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

And we will take it offline and do some work with you about this.

Brian Meredith -- UBS -- Analyst

Great. Thanks.

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

You're welcome.

Operator

We will hear next from Meyer Shields from KBW.

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning, Meyer.

Meyer Shields -- Keefe, Bruyette & Woods -- Analyst

Thanks. Good morning. I just wanted to follow up on Brian's question. We saw particularly lower admin expenses year-over-year in North America commercial and personal. Is that also just randomness or is there some connection to the elevated losses?

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

No, no connection to the elevated losses. It is a randomness quarter-to-quarter.

Meyer Shields -- Keefe, Bruyette & Woods -- Analyst

Okay, perfect. And Evan, something you could take us through the thought process of buying more quota share protection in California homeowners over excess.

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Well, we are benefited company -- look, we wanted to reduce our exposure and balance our exposure in California where we have a lot of concentration in both CAT and non-CAT, modeled and non-modeled CAT. We did the same -- the quota share was initially purchased for the mingling states and the Northeast where we had and a new -- we have an usual amount of concentration. We weren't simply trying to balance CAT, but the exposures of non-modeled CAT is well like, just frequency of winter losses that you had in the Northeast and the impact it could have on the total book when we put all these books together.

So it was really looking for to spread the risk of the ground up concentration, not simply a single event concentration or the losses produced because of the concentration from a single event. And that was the reason for purchasing the Northeast quota share and it made sense to us to extend that then to California as well. And we gave the reinsurers a better balance, they were (ph) concentrated in just one territory.

Meyer Shields -- Keefe, Bruyette & Woods -- Analyst

Okay. That's very helpful. Thank you so much.

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

You're welcome.

Operator

Larry Greenberg from Janney Montgomery Scott. Your line is open.

Larry Greenberg -- Janney Montgomery Scott -- Analyst

Thank you, and good morning. My question also is on the underlying in commercial North America. And you've probably given me enough to answer it, but I'm going to still ask you...

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

So then why are you asking me Larry?

Larry Greenberg -- Janney Montgomery Scott -- Analyst

Because I'm not sure, if I know the answer. But let me just ask it this way. The underlying loss ratio deteriorated by about 60 bps for the year. And over the course of the year, you've called out some things, you actually called out some things last year as well. But, would you say this 60 bps is fairly representative of the price versus loss trends in the business?

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Perfect. Perfect.

Larry Greenberg -- Janney Montgomery Scott -- Analyst

Okay. Okay. Thanks.

Philip V. Bancroft -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

There is gravity of it.

Larry Greenberg -- Janney Montgomery Scott -- Analyst

Yeah. Okay. And then, the expense ratio improved more this year than at least I was thinking, and I would say maybe you guys had indicated coming out of last year. And is that just kind of operating leverage in the business or there any other explanations to discuss there?

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

You know, Larry, there is some -- I'm going to give you three answers. Number one, we had run-off if you will of all the projects we have put in place since the merger and those had some run-off final benefits that emerged in the year. We have a constant expense control in here. And yes there is -- there's one-off items that benefit the expense ratio during the year, but every year we have one-off items, they vary by quarter and that sort of thing, but there always seems to be a number of them it's just the nature of the business. So all -- but the first two I gave you were the -- are really the enduring drivers of it. We -- the expense ratio is part of strategy.

Larry Greenberg -- Janney Montgomery Scott -- Analyst

Thank you.

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

You're welcome.

Operator

And at this time, we do have one -- we have time for one final question. And that final question will come from Ryan Tunis from Autonomous Research. Please go ahead, Ryan.

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning.

Ryan Tunis -- Autonomous Research -- Analyst

Thanks. A couple for Evan. I guess, first of all, thinking about casualty lines in North America commercial, how do you feel about loss trend today versus maybe a year ago, or do you feel like there is more pressure, has the pressure alleviated some?

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, it's about stable. We haven't seen them. Over the last year, we haven't seen a change in the loss trend from the...

Ryan Tunis -- Autonomous Research -- Analyst

Is it still mostly limited to the management liability lines, or have you seen that creep it all into excess casualty?

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

No, not Ryan, the way you're asking it, I want to make sure we have clarity here. What you're asking about change in loss trend. And I'm responding to change in loss trend, but -- and that's stable, but there is a loss trend to every line of casualty. I mean -- I could tell you that that middle market, our comp business, the frequency is stable. So is the loss -- the severity trend, but it has a trend on our book of over 5 points, 5% so it's real. Excess casualty; excess casualty has a loss trend to it, whether it's major account or it's middle market, all casualty does. And so loss costs go up every year.

Ryan Tunis -- Autonomous Research -- Analyst

Got it. And then my follow-up was from the personal (Multiple Speakers)

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

But the trend is stable.

Ryan Tunis -- Autonomous Research -- Analyst

The trend is stable. Got you. And on the personal line side, I appreciate it takes some time for these rate increases to earn in, but would you see that loss activity has peaked, there is still -- is that still getting worse at this point and you're still kind of trying to pin that down on non-CAT side?

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

No, I would say, and we are just looking at it yesterday that so much, looking month by month actuals versus expected. The frequency and severity -- average severities by cause of the loss. We believe they have stabilized, we're seeing it stabilized, we're not still trying to get a handle on it. It has stabilized we see it. And it is a clear trend we have seen for a very good time. And so we know the target we're shooting at.

Ryan Tunis -- Autonomous Research -- Analyst

Got it. That's helpful. Thanks.

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

You're welcome.

Operator

And at this time, I would like to turn the conference back over to your host, Karen Beyer. Please go ahead, ma'am.

Karen Beyer -- Senior Vice President, Investor Relations

Thank you all for your time and attention this morning. We look forward to speaking with you again next quarter. Thank you, and have a good day.

Operator

That does conclude today's teleconference. We thank you all for your participation.

Duration: 57 minutes

Call participants:

Karen Beyer -- Senior Vice President, Investor Relations

Evan G. Greenberg -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Philip V. Bancroft -- Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Kai Pan -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Michael Zaremski -- Credit Suisse -- Analyst

Elyse Greenspan -- Wells Fargo Securities -- Analyst

Paul Newsome -- Sandler O'Neill -- Analyst

Paul J. Krump -- Executive Vice President

Yaron Kinar -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Jay Gelb -- Barclays Capital -- Analyst

Brian Meredith -- UBS -- Analyst

Meyer Shields -- Keefe, Bruyette & Woods -- Analyst

Larry Greenberg -- Janney Montgomery Scott -- Analyst

Ryan Tunis -- Autonomous Research -- Analyst

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