Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. will stop selling individual annuities and seek buyers for its individual life, Woodbury Financial Services and retirement-plan operations, the company said today in a statement.
The Hartford, Conn.-based company said its decision came after a board evaluation that was conducted over the past several quarters that ended this week. Annuities, which are a popular component of some retirement plans, generally enable individuals to invest and get payments at a later date or series of dates.
Hartford's decision to exit the annuity market also comes on the heels of hedge fund manager John Paulson urging Hartford over a month ago to spin off its property and casualty insurance business. Paulson, Hartford's biggest shareholder, told executives on a Feb. 8 conference call to "do something drastic" to increase the stock price, which dropped 39 percent last year. He urged President and CEO Liam McGee to split the insurer into property-casualty and life- insurance companies and suggested winding down the U.S. variable annuities business.
"While these actions are a bit more than I was expecting, they are less than John Paulson was proposing," Robert Glasspiegel, an analyst with Janney Montgomery Scott LLC, said today in a research report. "We expect that the stock will react favorably initially."
In February, Hartford reported that earnings for its individual annuity business fell to $86 million in the fourth quarter, down from $96 million in the prior-year period. "The Hartford's sharper focus will lead to an organization that, over time, will be positioned for higher returns on equity, reduced sensitivity to capital markets, a lower cost of capital and increased financial flexibility," President and CEO Liam McGee said in a company statement.
Hartford will stop selling new annuities starting April 27. The company expects it will take a $15 million to $20 million after-tax charge in the second quarter. Annual run-rate expenses are expected to decline by about $100 million, before taxes, starting next year.
Company officials say Hartford is looking to sell or pursue other options for its individual life, Woodbury Financial Services and retirement plans, but it will still continue to write new business in those areas.
Hartford may get about $1.5 billion from the sale of the individual-life, Woodbury and retirement-plans businesses, according to estimates published today by Meyer Shields, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus & Co.
"The Hartford's sharper focus will lead to an organization that, over time, will be positioned for higher returns on equity, reduced sensitivity to capital markets, a lower cost of capital and increased financial flexibility," said President and CEO Liam McGee in a prepared statement.
-jim McConville and Bloomberg News