The Role of Financial Conditions in Portfolio Choices: The Case of Insurers

Abstract: Many institutional investors depend on the returns they generate to fund their operations and liabilities. How do these investors’ financial conditions affect the management of their portfolios? We address this issue using the insurance industry because insurers are large investors for which detailed portfolio data are available, and can face financial shocks from exogenous weather-related events. Results suggest that more constrained insurers have smaller portfolio weights on riskier and illiquid assets, and have lower realized returns. Among corporate bonds, for which we can control for regulatory treatment, results suggest that more constrained insurers have smaller portfolio weights on riskier corporate bonds. Following operating losses, P&C insurers decrease allocations to riskier corporate bonds. The effect of losses on allocations is likely to be causal since it holds when instrumenting for P&C losses with weather shocks. The change in allocations following losses is larger for more constrained insurers and during the financial crisis, suggesting that the shift toward safer securities is driven by concerns about financial flexibility. The results highlight the importance of financial flexibility to fund operations in institutional investors’ portfolio decisions.

Authors: Shan Ge, Michael S. Weisbach

Date: May 31, 2019; Last revised: February 21, 2020

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How Do Hurricanes Affect Life Insurance Premiums? The Effects of Financial Constraints on Pricing

Abstract: I identify effects of financial constraints on firms’ product pricing decisions, using a sample of insurance groups (conglomerates) that contain both life and P&C (property & casualty) subsidiaries. P&C subsidiaries’ losses can tighten financial constraints for the life subsidiaries through internal capital markets. I present a model that predicts following P&C losses, premiums should fall for life policies that initially increase insurers’ statutory capital, and rise for policies that initially decrease capital. Empirically, I find that P&C losses cause changes in life insurance premiums as my model predicts. The effects are concentrated in more financially constrained groups. Evidence also indicates that life subsidiaries increase capital transfers to P&C subsidiaries following larger P&C losses. These results hold when instrumenting for P&C losses using data on weather damages, implying that P&C losses do cause changes in life insurance premiums and internal capital transfers. My findings suggest that when financial constraints tighten, firms change product prices to relax the constraints, and how prices change depends on the initial impact of selling the products on firms’ financial resources.

Author: Shan Ge

Date: November 8, 2017

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