Reports on the improving U.S. property/casualty industry after a poor 2009 continue to emerge. However, the improvement doesn’t apply to the workers' compensation segment's underwriting performance, which continues to deteriorate, according to A.M. Best.

Net premiums written (NPW) in the workers' compensation line of business fell for the fourth consecutive year in 2009, declining 11.6% to $36.2 billion from $41.0 billion in 2008. A.M. Best Co.'s workers' compensation composite's NPW plunged 14.6% to $12.3 billion in 2009, its lowest level since 1999. The composite's top line has fallen for five straight years, decreasing approximately 41% since reaching its high of $21 billion in 2004. The composite's net income plunged 61% to $0.3 billion in 2009, representing the fourth consecutive year of deteriorating operating results.

The rating agency attributes the deterioration to the downward spiral in premium volume as the economy continued to take its toll on exposure levels as well as widespread competitive pricing.

The composite's combined ratio deteriorated 8.8 percentage points to 120.0 in 2009, representing the highest combined ratio posted by the composite since it recorded a 118.6 in 2002.

As the economy moves slowly from recession to recovery, the consensus anticipates a jobless recovery and, therefore, sluggish premium growth, meaning the workers' compensation segment's underwriting performance is not expected to rebound over the near term, A.M. Best says.

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