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Edited Transcript of EMCI earnings conference call or presentation 7-Nov-18 5:00pm GMT

Q3 2018 EMC Insurance Group Inc Earnings Call

DES MOINES Dec 19, 2018 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of EMC Insurance Group Inc earnings conference call or presentation Wednesday, November 7, 2018 at 5:00:00pm GMT

TEXT version of Transcript

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Corporate Participants

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* Bruce Gunn Kelley

EMC Insurance Group Inc. - President, CEO, Treasurer & Director

* Mark Edward Reese

EMC Insurance Group Inc. - Senior VP & CFO

* Michael Alan Lovell

EMC Insurance Group Inc. - EVP of Operations

* Scott Ronald Jean

EMC Insurance Group Inc. - EVP of Finance & Strategy

* Steve Walsh

EMC Insurance Group Inc. - Assistant VP & Director of IR

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Conference Call Participants

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* Christopher Campbell

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

* John Eric Deysher

Bertolet Capital Trust - Pinnacle Value Fund - Portfolio Manager

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Presentation

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Operator [1]

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Good day, and welcome to the EMC Insurance Group 2018 Third Quarter Earnings Conference Call. (Operator Instructions) Please note, this event is being recorded.

I would now like to turn the conference over to Steve Walsh, Director of Investor Relations. Please go ahead, sir.

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Steve Walsh, EMC Insurance Group Inc. - Assistant VP & Director of IR [2]

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Thank you, Laura. Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to EMC Insurance Group's 2018 third quarter earnings conference call. A copy of the news release is available on the Investor Relations page of our website, which can be found at investors.emcins.com. The archived audio webcast will be available for replay for approximately 90 days, following the earnings call.

This presentation includes some forward-looking statements about our expectations for our future performance. These statements are not guarantees of future performance, and actual results could differ materially from those suggested by our comments today due to a variety of factors. Additional information about factors that could affect future results is addressed in our SEC filings, including forms S-1, 10-K, 10-Q and 8-K. Any information provided today should be read in conjunction with the 2018 third quarter earnings release with accompanying financial tables issued earlier today.

Certain non-GAAP terms may be used during today's discussion. Please refer to the company's press release and SEC filings for a description and reconciliation of these terms.

Speaking today will be Bruce Kelley, President and Chief Executive Officer; Mick Lovell, Executive Vice President of Operations; Mark Reese, Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer; and Scott Jean, Executive Vice President of Finance and Strategy. They, along with the other executive officers, will be available to answer questions following their prepared remarks.

So at this time, it's my pleasure to introduce the company's President and CEO, Bruce Kelley.

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Bruce Gunn Kelley, EMC Insurance Group Inc. - President, CEO, Treasurer & Director [3]

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Thank you, Steve, and welcome to those joining us today. This morning, we reported net income of $19.1 million for the third quarter of 2018 compared to net income of $746,000 in the third quarter of 2017. Included in net income reported for the third quarter of 2018, is a $9.5 million pre-tax increase in unrealized investment gains on our equity investments. This was required by updated accounting guidance, which was adopted by the company at the beginning of 2018. Excluding this amount, the primary driver of the increase in net income for the third quarter is a significantly lower level of catastrophe and storm losses in the reinsurance segment. These losses have been well below average all year.

As a result, the reinsurance segment's GAAP combined ratio improved to 101.2%, down from 152.3% reported in the third quarter of 2017, which included a record amount of catastrophe and storm losses due primarily to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. This improvement was partially offset by a substantial increase in catastrophe and storm losses in the property and casualty insurance segment due to a few severe Midwest storms primarily impacting the state of Iowa, and losses that resulted from Hurricane Florence.

An increase in favorable development on prior years' reserves and an improvement in the underlying loss and settlement expense ratio helped mitigate the impact of these events as this segment reported a GAAP combined ratio of 99.6% compared to the 94.6% reported in the third quarter of 2017.

Also included in net income reported in the third quarter of 2018 is $1.6 million of pretax realized investment gains compared to $594,000 of pretax realized investment losses which was reported in the third quarter of 2017.

Non-GAAP operating income, which excludes the change in unrealized investment gains on equity investments as well as realized investment gains and losses, totaled $0.48 per share for the third quarter compared to non-GAAP operating income of $0.05 per share in the third quarter of 2017.

Based on actual results for the first nine months and expectations for the remainder of the year, we are now projecting 2018 non-GAAP operating income will be within a range of $1.30 per share to $1.50 per share. Due to an unusually high level of non-catastrophe losses in the property and casualty insurance segment, the range of non-GAAP operating income guidance has fluctuated during the first nine months of 2018.

After revising guidance down during the first half of the year, we are pleased that our better-than-expected results in the third quarter required an upward revision to annual guidance. Book value per share did decline approximately 5.4% to $26.63 per share for the year end 2017 -- from the year end 2017. This was primarily due to a decline in the value of the fixed maturity portfolio, attributable to an increase in interest rates.

For the third quarter, premiums earned increased 5.5% and premiums written increased 6.7%. In the reinsurance segment premiums earned increased 8% and premiums written increased 9.2% in the third quarter. As we have noted previously, our experienced team of reinsurance underwriters capitalized on some disruption in the marketplace during the January 1 renewal season, when approximately 70% of our reinsurance treaties renew, by increasing participation on some of our preferred existing accounts and also by adding some new business.

This was partially offset by a continued decline in premiums from Mutual Re, formerly known as the Mutual Reinsurance Bureau underwriting association, due to Mutual Re's withdraw from non-standard automobile business. Premiums earned in the reinsurance segment are now expected to increase in the high single to low double digits for the year, up from mid-single-digit increases that was previously expected.

In the property and casualty insurance segment, premiums earned increased 4.8% and premiums written increased 6.1% in the third quarter. Rate levels for commercial lines of business were up low single digits and there continues to be significant variation by line of business, similar to what we've reported in the second quarter. Retention remains strong at approximately 87%.

As we announced last week, we have decided to exit personal lines business. EMC has entered into an agreement with Safeco Insurance, a Liberty Mutual company, to provide EMC licensed agents an opportunity to transition their EMC personal lines policies to Safeco. This transition begins in the first quarter of 2019 and will continue through the first quarter of 2020. The decision to focus on commercial lines was made after careful consideration and a comprehensive review of the marketplace. We carefully considered the impact this transition would have on our independent agents, our policyholders, our employees and our ongoing commercial lines business.

Our review illustrated that a significant investment of our time and resources would be required for us to provide the level of solutions and customer support we would expect to offer in personal lines. We believe the impact on our commercial lines of business will be minor as we realign our resources to concentrate on commercial lines to maximize our profit and grow our -- and growth potential there.

So with that, I'll turn the call over to Mick Lovell, Executive Vice President of Operations for some additional comments regarding this transition.

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Michael Alan Lovell, EMC Insurance Group Inc. - EVP of Operations [4]

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Thank you, Bruce, and good afternoon everyone. As Bruce noted, this decision was made after a thorough analysis of the expected impact to all of our stakeholders. As you know, we have struggled to achieve profitability in personal lines over the past few years. We initially decreased its size to reduce exposure concentrations and limit the impact this underperforming business was having on our operations.

More recently, the personal lines operation was created in late 2014, which assumed responsibility and accountability for the growth and profitability of personal lines business at the beginning of 2016. New homeowners and personal auto products were introduced and implemented with the expectation of improved profitability toward the end of 2017 and into 2018. Personal lines premiums written and premiums earned had declined to represent approximately 6.3% of total premiums in 2017, but we believed it could provide an avenue for profitable growth and further diversification over the long term.

However, personal lines did not achieve the improvement that we anticipated as our loss and settlement expense ratio approached 90% for the first half of 2018. It became apparent that the initiatives in place during the past few years to return personal lines to profitability was not having the desired impact in an acceptable timeframe and therefore the decision became clear. Our initial concern with this decision was the impact on our team members and the potential impact this could have on our independent agents that write both personal lines and commercial lines business with EMC, which represents approximately 31% of our independent agents.

We have approximately 400 agencies that write predominantly personal lines with us. In total, these agencies produced approximately $25 million in commercial business for EMC. Of those 400 agencies, approximately 270 have under $250,000 in total volume and produce about $5 million in commercial lines premium. Our comprehensive market analysis indicated that this strategic decision would not jeopardize the majority of the long-term relationships we have built with our independent agency force. They view us as a financially strong, diversified market leader in commercial lines, and we believe this decision will only enhance this reputation.

Regrettably, this decision impacts 121 of our team members in Des Moines and our branch offices. The earliest any positions will be eliminated is February 1st, 2019, and we made the decision to announce this change early in the process so they would have adequate time to plan for the future. All impacted team members will receive severance packages, job placement assistance and have opportunities to apply for open positions within the company. This is an unprecedented move for our company and is not a reflection on the dedication and hard work of our team members or our independent agencies, across the 23 states we currently sell and service personal lines.

It is a business decision to strengthen and grow the enterprise whereby we move toward expanding our commercial lines of business. It is all about reallocating resources and making sure for the benefit of the entire enterprise we are following a path that provides us the most potential for continued stability and growth in the future.

So with that, I'll turn the call over to Mark Reese, our Chief Financial Officer for additional detail about the expected impact to our financial statements in 2019 and 2020 as well as some comments on the quarter.

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Mark Edward Reese, EMC Insurance Group Inc. - Senior VP & CFO [5]

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Thank you, Mick, and good afternoon everyone. As a result of the transition out of personal lines, we expect personal lines premiums written will decline to approximately $2 million to $4 million in 2019, as we expect to continue to renew a limited number of policies in the first quarter. We expect premiums earned will decelerate through 2019 with approximately $15 million to $18 million earned in the first half and $5 million to $8 million in the second half for a total of $20 million to $26 million in total premiums earned.

In the fourth quarter of 2018, the company expects to incur approximately $1 million of costs related to severance expense and the write-off of personal lines software currently in development. In 2019, the company expects to incur approximately $1 million in additional severance costs.

In 2019 and 2020, we expect premiums will decline faster than expenses due to the necessary retention of employees to handle the run off of personal lines business. Therefore, due to this lag, we expect the 2019 and 2020 expense ratios will be elevated by approximately 100 basis points and 50 basis points, respectively, relative to our projections had we continued to write personal lines business.

Overall, the expectation is that the run off of personal lines will be a slight drag on 2019 results, due to the higher expense ratio and lingering personal lines exposures; but that 2020 results will begin to show improvement with the reduction in personal lines exposures.

As Bruce mentioned, the property and casualty insurance segment reported a significant increase in catastrophe and storm losses in the third quarter. However, having filled the retention amounts under both semi-annual aggregate excessive loss treaties, any additional catastrophe and storm losses incurred in the fourth quarter will be ceded to Employers Mutual unless the limits of protection are exceeded.

The increase in catastrophe and storm losses was partially offset by $7.2 million of favorable development on prior years' reserves. This is primarily driven by reductions in the ultimate settlement expense ratios, established for several accident years in several lines of business with the largest being in the commercial liability line of business.

In addition, the ultimate loss ratios were reduced for several accident years in several lines of business with the most notable reduction in the commercial auto line of business. The reinsurance segment reported adverse development on prior years' reserves of $1.3 million attributed to the other liability and fire pro rata lines business, as well as the liability excess of loss line of business, partially offset by favorable development in the property excess of loss line of business.

Net investment income increased 3.9% for the third quarter due to growth in the fixed maturity portfolio and an increase in interest rates. Pre-tax yields on new purchases were slightly higher than the existing book yield on the fixed income portfolio, which ended the third quarter at 3.5%. The effective duration of the fixed maturity portfolio, excluding interest only securities was 5.3% at September 30th, 2018, up from 5.0% at the end of 2017. Our equity portfolio increased in value by 7.4% during the third quarter compared to 7.7% for the S&P 500.

I'll now turn the call over to Scott Jean, Executive Vice President of Finance and Strategy for some additional comments and closing remarks.

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Scott Ronald Jean, EMC Insurance Group Inc. - EVP of Finance & Strategy [6]

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Thank you, Mark and good afternoon everyone. I want to start with an update on our workers' compensation line of business. We reported a high level of non-catastrophe losses in the second quarter of 2018, which was primarily attributed to the workers' compensation line of business. An adjustment was made to the fourth quarter of 2017 and first quarter of 2018 ultimate loss and settlement expense ratio projections after it became apparent that we were experiencing unanticipated increases in both the frequency and severity of reported losses, primarily from slips and falls as claims emerged during the second quarter.

Reported losses from claims that occurred in the second and third quarters of 2018 appear to be much lower than what was experienced on first quarter claims. However, the mandatory rate reductions over the past several years that have been implemented in many of the states in which we operate, has reduced rate adequacy and contributed to the increase in workers' compensation loss and settlement expense ratio.

We continue to work on improving the profitability of our commercial auto line of business. We, along with the industry, have experienced increases in both loss frequency and severity. We are attempting to combat these headwinds with high-single-digit rate level increases, which account for the majority of the growth in commercial auto premiums for the year.

We also continue to re-underwrite our commercial auto business and are canceling policies and in some instances, agencies who have commercial auto policies that have performed poorly. While still unprofitable, we have seen improvements in our loss and settlement expense ratio during 2018. The significant improvement in the loss and settlement expense ratio for the third quarter was driven primarily by favorable development on prior year reserves due to a decline in the estimated ultimate severity for accident years 2015 through 2017. There's still plenty of additional opportunities for improvement, which should ultimately lead this line of business back to profitability.

For example, we will begin implementing new commercial auto rating enhancements in mid-2019, which will further segment rating elements to more accurately reflect exposures. These enhancements include a modeled actuary factor based on mileage, refined geographic rating and refined industry factors, among other things.

I also want to provide a quick update on our stock repurchase program and quarterly dividend. During third quarter, no shares of the company's common stock were repurchased, which leaves approximately $14 million remaining under the $15 million authorization. As a reminder, our general rule is that we will only repurchase stock at or below book value, subject to a number of additional factors, including general market conditions, the economic environment, and the rate of return that can be achieved on the repurchases. We also consider corporate actions in determining whether to repurchase the company's common stock.

Once the decision was made by management to explore transition out of personal lines, we did not believe it was appropriate to actively repurchase stock until this information was publicly disclosed. As a result, we temporarily suspended stock repurchases, despite attractive repurchase prices on certain trading days during the third quarter and the month of October, no shares were repurchased.

Our quarterly cash dividend remains an effective method of providing an attractive return to stockholders, and I'm pleased to report that our Board of Directors recently approved a 4.5% increase in our quarterly cash dividend to $0.23 per share from the previous $0.22 per share. This is the ninth consecutive year, the Board of Directors has increased the quarterly cash dividend.

Before we open up the call for questions, I would like to thank Rod Hansen who has served as the Senior Vice President of IT since 2013 and assumed the title of Chief Information Technology Officer in 2018. As he announced, he will be retiring in 2019. We appreciate how Rod has adapted to many changes in the organization over his 40 year career, always demonstrating his dedication to EMC's success and growth.

I would also like to welcome Sanjeev Singh, who was hired in October as EMC's Chief Information Officer. EMC conducted a countrywide search for a CIO with experience in core system transformation and identified Sanjeev as meeting all the qualifications. Sanjeev is an executive with broad experience in insurance technology and he brings expertise in leading IT transformations.

Sanjeev has been the Chief Information Officer for Fidelity & Guaranty Life insurance company, where he led the digitization and modernization of the entire IT infrastructure. Because of the significance of the enterprise modernization strategy, we determined that it was best to give Sanjeev immediate accountability for IT and the modernization strategy that is underway.

So, with that, we're ready to open the call for questions.

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Questions and Answers

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Operator [1]

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(Operator Instructions) Our first question will come from Christopher Campbell of KBW.

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Christopher Campbell, Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division - Analyst [2]

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I guess, just starting on personal lines, results were improving. I guess, what drove the decision now to exit if you're seeing the improvement?

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Michael Alan Lovell, EMC Insurance Group Inc. - EVP of Operations [3]

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This is Mick, Chris. I'll take that question for you. So the decision now is the understanding of the clarity of the position we're at in the market and the long-term investment that it would take in order to achieve the level of customer experience we'd really want to provide in the marketplace, and we had a disproportionate investment in personal lines over the last few years compared to our premium volume. And looking ahead, we felt it was just the best decision to move to a fully commercial lines focus and maximize those opportunities going forward, and ensure our resources are aligned to that.

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Christopher Campbell, Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division - Analyst [4]

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And then what are your plans for the excess capital that you no longer need, like, once the Safeco deal goes through? Because presumably you have capital that's supporting that business. And are there also any, like, stranded overhead costs that you will still have that you'll need to run down over time?

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Michael Alan Lovell, EMC Insurance Group Inc. - EVP of Operations [5]

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I can address some of the overhead costs. We will have continuing costs through 2019 into early 2020 related to not only salaries, but we'll also have costs associated with some vendor contracts and other things that we'll need to wind down. So there will be some continuing costs there, but we anticipate that we will use as much of the resources we can and as feasible toward our commercial lines operations going forward. So we'll redirect those resources there as needed.

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Scott Ronald Jean, EMC Insurance Group Inc. - EVP of Finance & Strategy [6]

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Chris, this is Scott Jean. As far as the capital is concerned, we believe that the capital that we have will position us well to be able to really focus and refocus on growing our commercial book of business in the coming years.

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Christopher Campbell, Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division - Analyst [7]

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Got it. So does that make -- so does that mean that EMCI would be interested in transferring that capital versus like paying it back to shareholders or anything like that? (inaudible) you guys have been more interested in using that capital to -- maybe do an acquisition in commercial lines, a renewal rights deal, something like that to accelerate the commercial lines growth. And then what's more attractive? Commercial lines or reinsurance for you right now?

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Scott Ronald Jean, EMC Insurance Group Inc. - EVP of Finance & Strategy [8]

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This is Scott again. Both the commercial lines and the reinsurance are both of interest to us as we look at the diversification that the reinsurance company gives us, the assumed reinsurance. We believe there's opportunities to grow there and write more business, but the commercial is the core of what we do and we're always going to be a direct writer of commercial business.

And as far as getting back to the capital question, the capital is going to be their support as we look to grow both the commercial and the reinsurance in the coming years rather than looking to return too much back to stockholders, looking to reinvest that and grow our commercial book long term.

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Christopher Campbell, Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division - Analyst [9]

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Got it. And what are the incremental returns that you're getting right now on the -- I guess, the commercial reinsurance lines on a blended basis?

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Scott Ronald Jean, EMC Insurance Group Inc. - EVP of Finance & Strategy [10]

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Could you repeat that question again, Chris?

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Christopher Campbell, Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division - Analyst [11]

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Yes, I'm just trying to say, okay, so you're going to reinvest in the commercial and then the reinsurance lines. So what's the incremental ROE that you would get on those investments? Like, if you want to expand the commercial lines book from here, because you do still have some headwinds in commercial auto, et cetera. Just trying to think, like, what would be the ROE accretion you can get from those investments.

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Mark Edward Reese, EMC Insurance Group Inc. - Senior VP & CFO [12]

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Yes, hey, this is Mark Reese. I would say our internal rate of return would probably in the mid- to high single digits on both the commercial and the assumed reinsurance.

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Christopher Campbell, Keefe, Bruyette, & Woods, Inc., Research Division - Analyst [13]

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Okay. And is one higher than the other?

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Mark Edward Reese, EMC Insurance Group Inc. - Senior VP & CFO [14]

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Well, there is obviously variability in the reinsurance. I think it's probably more steady in the commercial side, but the reinsurance side, you can certainly have good years and bad years.

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Operator [15]

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(Operator Instructions) Our next question will come from John Deysher of Pinnacle.

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John Eric Deysher, Bertolet Capital Trust - Pinnacle Value Fund - Portfolio Manager [16]

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Just a follow-up on the personal lines move. You indicated that there was $1 million severance expense in this fourth quarter, and I think another $1 million in 2019. Are there any other non-severance related expenses that are going to hit either in the fourth quarter or 2019?

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Mark Edward Reese, EMC Insurance Group Inc. - Senior VP & CFO [17]

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Yes, John. This is Mark Reese. The number for the fourth quarter does reflect the write-off of some internally developed software that's currently in development. And in the fourth -- going into 2019, in addition to the additional severance costs that we will incur, we're going to have a slight increase in the amortization of the personal lines software that's currently in use, but that's going to be pretty insignificant compared to the other costs.

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John Eric Deysher, Bertolet Capital Trust - Pinnacle Value Fund - Portfolio Manager [18]

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Okay. So no major increases beyond the severance expenses that you already indicated.

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Mark Edward Reese, EMC Insurance Group Inc. - Senior VP & CFO [19]

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That's correct.

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John Eric Deysher, Bertolet Capital Trust - Pinnacle Value Fund - Portfolio Manager [20]

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Okay, good. And Mark, I missed the expense ratio increase that you anticipated because of this. What was it for? (inaudible) you mentioned?

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Mark Edward Reese, EMC Insurance Group Inc. - Senior VP & CFO [21]

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Yes; for 2019 we're expecting about 100 basis points, and 2020 about 50 basis points.

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John Eric Deysher, Bertolet Capital Trust - Pinnacle Value Fund - Portfolio Manager [22]

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That's helpful. Is there going to be any change in the disclosure in 2019 to kind of carve out the impact of the transition, just so we can see how the core business is doing?

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Mark Edward Reese, EMC Insurance Group Inc. - Senior VP & CFO [23]

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Yes, we currently report results separately in some of our tables for the personal and commercial. So we'll look to refine that a little bit, so maybe it's, perhaps, a little clearer to the readers.

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John Eric Deysher, Bertolet Capital Trust - Pinnacle Value Fund - Portfolio Manager [24]

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Yes, that would be helpful, because I think you disclosed the loss ratios, but the problem is the expense ratio for the personal lines had always been embedded in the overall expense ratios. So to the extent you can refine that so we can have a clear idea of how commercial and reinsurance is moving independent of personal lines. That would really be helpful.

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Mark Edward Reese, EMC Insurance Group Inc. - Senior VP & CFO [25]

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All right. We'll take that under consideration.

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Operator [26]

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And this concludes our question-and-answer session. I would like to turn the conference back over to Steve Walsh for any closing remarks.

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Steve Walsh, EMC Insurance Group Inc. - Assistant VP & Director of IR [27]

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I'd like to thank you all for joining us today. We appreciate your interest in EMC Insurance Group, and look forward to speaking with you again on our fourth quarter earnings conference call. Have a great day.

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Operator [28]

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Conference is now concluded. Thank you for attending today's presentation. You may now disconnect.