Genworth Financial, the largest seller of long-term care (LTC) insurance policies, has agreed to be acquired by a privately-held Chinese investment firm. At the same time, it announced it will reserve an additional $400 million to $450 million against future long-term care claims.
The twin Oct 23 announcements are further indication of just how brutal the long-term care insurance business has become. Struggling with larger-than-expected claims and continued low interest rates that have slashed investment earnings, scores of carriers have abandoned the market in recent years, and those that remained have sharply raised premiums on existing policies and tightened underwriting standards and raised prices on new ones. As a result, sales have plummeted. Sales of individual stand-alone policies plunged from a peak of about 750,000 in 2002 to only about 130,000 in 2014.
Genworth’s twin announcements come on the heels of major premiums increases by the long-term care insurance program that is operated by John Hancock for federal employees. Many long-time policyholders will see their premiums double under the new rate structure.
Unlike many of its competitors, Genworth has stuck it out. In recent years the firm sold about one-third of all stand-alone LTC policies in the US, making it by far the biggest player in the market. But it has had to increase reserves against future claims in two of the past three years, taking charges against earnings of nearly $1 billion. Its bond ratings have been downgraded and it stock price plummeted from a high of about $35-a-share a decade ago to a low of $1.60 in early 2016. More recently, it has been selling at about $5.00.
The firm reported a loss of $1.24 billion in 2014 and $615 million in 2015, mostly because of its LTC business. This week, it reported taking an additional charge against earnings of $260 million to $300 million in the 3rd quarter alone, also due to its LTC insurance business.
The firm has been aggressively raising premiums on its older policies, but its steady increase of reserves is evidence that it will have to eat many of those claims. Industry-wide, losses have been significantly higher than expected, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
Genworth, which also operates an international mortgage insurance business, says it will continue to sell long-term care coverage, and has rolled out new products in recent months. But in an attempt to relieve financial pressures, it has moved to sell out to China Oceanwide Holding Ltd, a privately-held investment firm. China Oceanwide has offered to buy all outstanding shares for $2.7 billion or $5.43-a-share. It will also contribute $600 million to repay bonds due to mature in 2018 and pour another $525 million in cash into Genworth’s insurance business. The deal does not include any additional funds to help shore up claims against those old long-term care policies.
Genworth would operate as a separate subsidiary under current management from its offices in Richmond, VA. The deal requires regulatory approval.
While the cash infusion will help, so will going private. Genworth has been under strong investor pressure for years to abandon its long-term care insurance business, a step that CEO Tom McInerney has resisted.
While Genworth’s decision to go public is more evidence of the deep challenges of the LTC insurance, it may have an upside. The move may give McInerney additional flexibility to innovate in the long-term care insurance market without investors looking over his shoulder—at least as long as his Chinese bosses remain patient.