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Edited Transcript of AMSF earnings conference call or presentation 2-May-19 2:30pm GMT

Q1 2019 Amerisafe Inc Earnings Call

DE RIDDER May 13, 2019 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of Amerisafe Inc earnings conference call or presentation Thursday, May 2, 2019 at 2:30:00pm GMT

TEXT version of Transcript

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Corporate Participants

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* Gerry Janelle Frost

Amerisafe, Inc. - President, CEO & Director

* Kathryn Housh Shirley

Amerisafe, Inc. - Executive VP, General Counsel & Secretary

* Neal Andrew Fuller

Amerisafe, Inc. - Executive VP & CFO

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Conference Call Participants

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* Frederique Suzanne Sleiffer

Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division - Associate

* Mark Douglas Hughes

SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, Inc., Research Division - MD

* Matthew John Carletti

JMP Securities LLC, Research Division - MD and Senior Analyst

* Ryan William Aceto

B. Riley FBR, Inc., Research Division - Research Analyst

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Presentation

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Operator [1]

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Good day, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to AMERISAFE's 2019 First Quarter Earnings Conference Call. (Operator Instructions) As a reminder, this call is being recorded.

I would now like to turn the call over to Kathryn Shirley. You may begin.

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Kathryn Housh Shirley, Amerisafe, Inc. - Executive VP, General Counsel & Secretary [2]

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Good morning. Welcome to the AMERISAFE 2019 first quarter investor call. If you have not received the earnings release, it is available on our website at www.amerisafe.com. This call is being recorded. A replay of today's call will be available. Details on how to access the replay are in the earnings release.

During this call, we will be making forward-looking statements. These statements are based on current expectations and assumptions that are subject to various risk and uncertainties. Actual results may differ materially from the results expressed or implied in these statements if the underlying assumptions prove to be incorrect or as the result of risk, uncertainties and other factors, including factors discussed in today's earnings release, the comments made during this call and in the Risk Factors section of our Form 10-K, Form 10-Qs and other reports and filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. We do not undertake any duty to update any forward-looking statement.

I will now turn the call over to Janelle Frost, AMERISAFE's President and CEO.

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Gerry Janelle Frost, Amerisafe, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [3]

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Thank you, Kathryn, and good morning, everyone. Our year-end call was just 2 months ago. Since then, we have not seen signs of change in the workers' compensation market. The soft cycle lives on.

In the first quarter, the market was highly competitive as approved loss cost continue to decline. For AMERISAFE, gross premiums written were down 4.4% with a measured decline in pricing, represented by our 159 ELCM. This compares to a 163 ELCM in the first quarter of the previous year. Pricing adjustments were made to retain profitable accounts as reflected in our policy retention rate of 92.4%.

Overall, voluntary policies written in the quarter were down 1.2% on account basis and 5.7% on a premium basis. Premium declines due to lower rates were somewhat countered by stronger payrolls among our hazardous industries. Payroll audits remained positive for all of our major industry groups with marked increases in trucking, oil and gas and wholesale retail.

In total, audit premium and related adjustments increased top line by $1.2 million compared to last year's first quarter. Our loss and LAE ratio for the quarter was 58.4%, comprised of the current accident year loss ratio of 72.5% and a favorable prior accident year loss ratio of 14.1%.

Our estimate for the current accident year was 1 percentage point higher than accident year 2018. We assumed frequency to be flat to slightly higher with more reported claims on the smaller earned premium base in a declining rate environment.

For severity, we assumed mid-single-digit inflation. Our favorable development this quarter totaled $12 million compared to $9.3 million in the first quarter of 2018. The favorable development was driven by favorable case reserve development, particularly in accident years 2016, 2015, 2014 and 2012.

I will now turn the call over to Neal to discuss the financials.

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Neal Andrew Fuller, Amerisafe, Inc. - Executive VP & CFO [4]

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Thank you, Janelle, and good morning, everyone. For the first quarter of 2019, AMERISAFE reported net income of $19.4 million or $1.01 per diluted share compared with $16.2 million or $0.84 per diluted share in last year's first quarter. Operating net income for the first quarter was $17.6 million or $0.91 per share, an increase of $0.05 from $0.86 per share in the first quarter of 2018.

Revenues in the quarter increased 1.1% to $95.2 million compared with the first quarter of 2018. Net premiums earned decreased 2.7% to $84.9 million when compared to last year's first quarter.

Turning to our investment portfolio, net investment income increased 11.2% in the first quarter to $8 million compared with $7.2 million in the first quarter of 2018. The increase was driven by higher interest rates on fixed income securities.

The tax-equivalent yield on our investment portfolio was 3.14% at the end of the quarter. The pretax yield on the portfolio was 2.82% at the end of the period, up from 2.59% 1 year ago. There were no impairments on any of the securities held in the portfolio during the first quarter and there were no significant realized gains or losses during the period.

The investment portfolio is high quality, carrying an average AA rating with duration of 3.91, with 55% in municipal bonds, 23% in corporate bonds, 15% in U.S. treasuries and agencies and the remainder in cash and other investments. Approximately 57% of our bond portfolio is comprised of held-to-maturity securities, which were in a net unrealized gain position of $11.2 million at quarter end. These unrealized gains are not reflected in our book value as these bonds are carried at amortized cost.

We have a small investment in equities, and during the quarter, these securities increased by $2.2 million in value. With these changes in value running through the income statement, this increased net income by $0.09 per share.

Moving now to operating expenses. Our total underwriting and other expenses were $20.7 million in the quarter compared with $20.3 million in the first quarter of 2018. The increase was largely due to higher estimates of future payouts of share-based incentive compensation compared to last year's first quarter.

By category, the 2019 first quarter expenses included $6.7 million of salaries and benefits, $6.4 million in commissions and $7.6 million of underwriting and other costs. As a result of the decline in earned premium as well as slightly higher expenses, our expense ratio for the quarter was 24.3% compared with 23.2% in the first quarter of 2018.

Our tax rate for the quarter was 18.5% compared to 16.7% for last year's first quarter. Return on equity for the first quarter of 2019 was 18.5% compared to 15.1% for the first quarter of 2018, and operating ROE for the period was 16.9%.

In capital management, our company paid its regular quarterly cash dividend of $0.25 per share in the first quarter, which represented a 14% increase over last year's amount. This quarter, the Board declared a quarterly cash dividend of $0.25 per share, payable on June 21, 2019, to shareholders of record as of June 7, 2019.

And finally, just a couple of other notes. Book value per share was $22.33 at March 31, 2019, up 5% from $21.26 at year-end. Our statutory surplus was $401 million at quarter end, up from $384 million at December 31, 2018. And finally, we will be filing our Form 10-Q with the SEC tomorrow, May 3, after market close.

That concludes my remarks, and we would now like to open the call up for the question-and-answer session. Operator?

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Questions and Answers

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Operator [1]

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(Operator Instructions) Our first question comes from Randy Binner of B. Riley FBR.

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Ryan William Aceto, B. Riley FBR, Inc., Research Division - Research Analyst [2]

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This is actually Ryan Aceto on for Randy. I was wondering if you could quantify in the expenses the amount of incentive costs in 1Q '19 versus 1Q '18?

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Neal Andrew Fuller, Amerisafe, Inc. - Executive VP & CFO [3]

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Yes. The amount of increase was about $400,000.

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Ryan William Aceto, B. Riley FBR, Inc., Research Division - Research Analyst [4]

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Perfect. And then is 24% to 25% range still what you guys are targeting?

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Neal Andrew Fuller, Amerisafe, Inc. - Executive VP & CFO [5]

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Yes. That's still what we expect for 2019 consistently. It will bounce around a little bit depending upon on expenses in any 1 quarter, but overall, somewhere between 24% and 25% for the expense ratio not including policyholder dividends.

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Ryan William Aceto, B. Riley FBR, Inc., Research Division - Research Analyst [6]

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Perfect. And then I guess turning to reserves. 2017 accident year, I was wondering if you can give an update of anything material change there. And then I know it's early for 2018, but any initial thoughts would be great.

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Gerry Janelle Frost, Amerisafe, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [7]

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Sure, this is Janelle. For 2017, I think, we have not made any adjustments to our ultimate ratio for that accident year. As you know, you're familiar with our history, we typically look that at the 30, 36-month window. So there's not been anything material that would cause us to make any adjustments prior to that 30- to 36-month window. For 2018 year, I think I said this on last quarter's call as well. I felt good about 2018. At the end of the year, I felt confident in our reserves selection and nothing, at least in the first 3 months of 2019, would cause me to change that statement.

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Operator [8]

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Our next question comes from Matthew Carletti of JMP Securities.

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Matthew John Carletti, JMP Securities LLC, Research Division - MD and Senior Analyst [9]

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Few questions, maybe to start, the high level. There's been a lot of talk just broadly about kind of a fully employed economy or kind of heating economy. That sometimes can play in the loss trends in workers' comp and I think some of your peers have made some comments. What were you seeing in your book in terms of some of the typical things you might see when kind of an economy gets a little heated? Are you seeing anything yet or is it really nothing noticeable?

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Gerry Janelle Frost, Amerisafe, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [10]

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As I talked about in the prepared remarks, we were estimating what we saw accident year 2019 was going to be in comparison to '18 and '17 in terms of frequency in particular. We did feel like we'd see a slight increase in just the raw number of claims that we would see, and of course, as we stated, on a smaller earned premium base.

In the first quarter, I will say though, however, the claim count was less than 2018 at the same point in time. So I don't have anything in 3 months worth of data to support my assumption for 2019, that means obviously with 3 months of data, that's not really applicable.

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Matthew John Carletti, JMP Securities LLC, Research Division - MD and Senior Analyst [11]

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Right. So it's the right conservative assumption to make based on the fact pattern.

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Gerry Janelle Frost, Amerisafe, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [12]

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One thing I should think about this industry is that we insure in the first 3 months of the year, there's a lot of winter activity, so maybe not as much work activity in the first 3 months as we would see in the summer months or fall months.

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Matthew John Carletti, JMP Securities LLC, Research Division - MD and Senior Analyst [13]

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Yes. That makes sense. And then I apologize if I missed it, but did you mention the ELCM or if not, could you give it to us?

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Gerry Janelle Frost, Amerisafe, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [14]

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I did mentioned early on, just to make sure everybody was listening, just kidding, 159.

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Matthew John Carletti, JMP Securities LLC, Research Division - MD and Senior Analyst [15]

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What was it?

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Gerry Janelle Frost, Amerisafe, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [16]

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159.

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Matthew John Carletti, JMP Securities LLC, Research Division - MD and Senior Analyst [17]

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159. And then maybe last question if I can just so on the competitive environment. Where -- I guess where are you seeing at the strongest? What I mean by that is, are there any particular industries within your footprint that it's more competitive than others? Is it -- does it tend to be just be more by account size, which I think is classically kind of where you might see it? Is there anything to note there or is it just kind of a typical cycle?

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Gerry Janelle Frost, Amerisafe, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [18]

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Yes. I think it's just typical cycle. Obviously, where we first started seeing the intense competition for us was in the larger policy size, which makes sense, because we're competing against those packaged carriers and we saw slippage early on in the cycle in those larger accounts. Where we've really been monitoring is where are we in terms of the hazard groups, and I think I talked a little bit about this on the fourth quarter call. If you're ranking them A to G, G being the most hazardous, where we see slippage -- and I call it slippage where we're not being able to retain as many accounts as in those lower hazard groups. So that gives me a little bit of comfort in that, yes, people are playing in my space and what I would call hazardous industries. But at least in terms of my book of business, it's in my less hazardous industries.

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Matthew John Carletti, JMP Securities LLC, Research Division - MD and Senior Analyst [19]

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Right. Less than your wheelhouse.

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Gerry Janelle Frost, Amerisafe, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [20]

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Exactly.

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Matthew John Carletti, JMP Securities LLC, Research Division - MD and Senior Analyst [21]

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Great. And then actually just one numbers question, and Neal, I think it was $4.5 million of audit premium benefit in the quarter. Do you have handy the Q2 into Q3 last year, if you had it, so we know what kind of comp we're up against?

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Neal Andrew Fuller, Amerisafe, Inc. - Executive VP & CFO [22]

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Yes. I'll give you a readout of the last few quarters. So starting in the first quarter of 2018, that was $3.3 million, so that compares to the $4.5 million this quarter. Second quarter of '18 was $3.8 million. Third quarter of '18 was a minus $2.1 million and then the fourth quarter of '18 was $2.3 million.

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Operator [23]

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Our next question comes from Mark Hughes of SunTrust.

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Mark Douglas Hughes, SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, Inc., Research Division - MD [24]

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Janelle, did you say how many large losses you had in the quarter?

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Gerry Janelle Frost, Amerisafe, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [25]

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I didn't, Mark. We had 1 claim at the end of the first quarter that was reported which incurred over $1 million. But yes, I'll caveat that with my usual statement of, we are in a lumpy business, so I can't get real excited about 1 claim in the quarter because they can happen at any time. Yes, it was 1.

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Mark Douglas Hughes, SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, Inc., Research Division - MD [26]

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Well, that was a small lump so we'll take what we can get.

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Gerry Janelle Frost, Amerisafe, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [27]

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Yes, it was. I'll knock on wood at that point.

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Mark Douglas Hughes, SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, Inc., Research Division - MD [28]

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Yes. Neal, you said -- you've made a reference to $0.09 flowing through the P&L. What was that reference to, I'm sorry?

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Neal Andrew Fuller, Amerisafe, Inc. - Executive VP & CFO [29]

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That was just a reference to the equity securities, so that affects net income but not operating income. Equity securities which have been in its value during the quarter impacted net income positively.

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Mark Douglas Hughes, SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, Inc., Research Division - MD [30]

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Understood. Any early read, I'm just sort of curious, from a competitive standpoint, maybe I'm asking the same question again, but it seems like we've had this dynamic, clearly, loss costs have been coming down, competition has been ramping up. Is the tide starting to stabilize a little bit in terms of the competitive environment, loss costs are down, I think, over the last 3 or 4 years pretty substantially? Is that tempering the competitive enthusiasm a little bit? Or is it -- it's still ramping up?

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Gerry Janelle Frost, Amerisafe, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [31]

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No. I'd say, at this point, it really is unchanged from what we saw in the fourth quarter. You mentioned the rate -- in the quarter, the rate changes for our states that were effective in the first quarter accounted [5%]. I would love to see that part to taper off, but there's no indication (inaudible) as of yet. If I look at our top 5 (inaudible) states, the largest of those (inaudible) through decreases -- sorry (inaudible) with ranging down from 5.6% in Louisiana, just for the latest filing, so it's not cumulative latest filings. Yes, we would like to see this taper down.

I think Matt mentioned earlier about what we're seeing in some of our peers or other companies that are writing costs -- comps, what we're starting to see people take up current accident year loss ratio. So I think it's indicative of what everyone's experienced, just hasn't (inaudible) the rate data as of yet. But I do think from that perspective, companies -- it's still profitable, the question, but I do think companies are a little bit more cautious about what that loss ratio would (inaudible) in this rate environment.

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Operator [32]

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(Operator Instructions) Our next question comes from Freddie Sleiffer of KBW.

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Frederique Suzanne Sleiffer, Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division - Associate [33]

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Janelle, So I just wanted to go back to the reserve leases. I was wondering if you could give us a little bit more color on how much of the $12 million re-leases came from each accident year that you identified in the press release?

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Gerry Janelle Frost, Amerisafe, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [34]

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Certainly. Accident year 2016 was $6.1 million, 2015 was $2.1 million, accident year '14 was $2 million, and then prior to that, it was $1.8 million for accident years 2012 and prior.

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Frederique Suzanne Sleiffer, Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division - Associate [35]

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Okay. Got it. And then I think you -- could you just repeat where the growth in payroll audit and related premiums came from? Which industries or job classes are you seeing the biggest growth and any additional color you can give perhaps about how you see audit premium growth trending in the next few quarters?

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Gerry Janelle Frost, Amerisafe, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [36]

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Right. So payroll audits themselves in the quarter were positive in all of our major industry groups, the industry groups we published in our 10-K. Where we saw the most growth in the quarter was trucking, oil and gas and wholesale-retail, which -- and like in the 10-K, that's in the other line of business, but in particular, those 3 were the largest growth in terms of quarter-over-quarter payrolls.

What do we expect for the year? At this point, as long as the economy stays at the levels that it is, we do expect to continue to see positive audit premium throughout the year. Now how that compares to the prior year quarters? I don't know that it will be as robust. I think -- in other words, I don't know each quarter if it's going to be a headwind our a tailwind. I would expect it would taper off to some degree from where we were last year, but still remain positive. And I guess that's the key, even if the quarter-over-quarter change is less or decreased, the fact that the audit premiums remain positive, at least indicates that our insurers are either having more work activity than they anticipated or they've had wage inflation or something like that where we're having positive payroll growth. So in that regard, I do think that will continue in 2019.

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Frederique Suzanne Sleiffer, Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division - Associate [37]

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Okay. Great. And then just lastly, I think you said you expected an increase in claims because of the economy sort heating up. What are you seeing on your own book in terms of frequency and severity?

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Gerry Janelle Frost, Amerisafe, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [38]

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Right. So I mean our expectation for accident year 2019 is that frequency would go slightly up. I do think we'll probably see an increase in the number of reported claims into 2019. That was not the case in the first quarter, but again, that's 3 months worth of data, it's the winter months for us. So I don't want to say I don't rely on that data too much, but I don't want to base the entire year on that 1 quarter's worth of data, because in the first quarter, our reported claim counts were actually down for accident year 2019, but that's not my expectation for the full year.

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Operator [39]

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There are no further questions. I'd like to turn the call back over to Janelle Frost from any closing remarks.

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Gerry Janelle Frost, Amerisafe, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [40]

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Yesterday, AMERISAFE celebrated its 33rd year as an underwriter. Over the decades, we have seen varying markets, changing levels of competition, fluctuating economies, technological advances and obstacles. As a company, we have adapted, evolved and thrived by focusing on our niche, relying on our expertise, while learning from experience and continually striving for superior service and value for our stakeholders.

I feel privileged to be one of the over 400 AMERISAFE employees who are building on the foundation laid 33 years ago. I will also admit an 84% combined ratio and a return on average equity of 18.5% are pretty nice ways to celebrate an anniversary. Thank you for joining us today.

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Operator [41]

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Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for participating in today's conference. This does conclude the program, and you may all disconnect. Everyone, have a great day.