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Willis CEO: US Insurance Pricing Still Soft, Market Weak

Source: Down Jones

Posted on 28 Oct 2009

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Soft insurance prices and a weak economy are holding back Willis Group Holdings Ltd.'s (WSH) brokerage business in the U.S., England and Ireland., it's chairman and chief executive said Tuesday.

"Worst possible circumstances, worst possible economy," Joseph Plumeri said of the market environment during the broker's third-quarter earnings conference call. Insurance pricing continues to be "very soft," with no clear sign that prices are firming.

Workers compensation and construction, two of Willis' concentrations, have been hit by the weak economy, with North American organic commissions and fees dropping 3% from the third quarter last year, though improving from the previous quarter. Overall, the company's commissions rose 2% on the strength of international markets and new business the company won from rivals.

For the latest quarter, Willis reported a profit of $79 million, or 47 cents a share, up from $36 million, or 25 cents a share, a year earlier. The results include the acquisition of rival broker Hilb Rogal & Hobbs Co. a year ago. Plumeri said the integration is going smoothly, with cost-savings that are helping to improve profitability.